Chef Karen Urie Shields of Town House - Biography

Chilhowie, VA

September 2010

You don’t have to go to a large city for great food—the land where the food starts its life is as good a spot as any. That was the premise with which Pastry Chef Karen Urie Shields and her husband Chef John Shields opened Town House in Chilhowie, Virginia, located in the southwestern tip of the state and over 300 miles from Washington, DC.

Before tapping into the demand for creative destination dining, she graduated from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. For her post-graduate apprenticeship, Urie Shields made the decision to move to Chicago. The next two years were spent at Tru under James Beard Award-winning Pastry Chef Gale Gand. She would stay in the city for some time, moving to famed Chicago restaurant Charlie Trotter’s. She was soon promoted to pastry chef. Along the way she also worked at Providence, Rhode Island restaurant Al Forno. And in January 2008, Urie Shields made her way south to Chilhowie and to Town House.

Her goal is to create something “whimsical, spontaneous, humorous, flavorful, and with excellent textures.” The restaurant itself is warm and inviting, a far cry from the palatial chandelier-encrusted destination restaurants of yore. She focuses on locally sourced southern Virginia wild herbs, flowers and a multitude of other offerings in the area. They have an agricultural wonderland at their fingertips and restaurant competition is scarce in Chilhowie. For locals who aren’t as enamored with their culinary pyrotechnics, they offer more down-home, inviting farm-to-table options.