My autographed copy of The New Chesapeake Kitchen is embellished with a loopy but earnest note: “Let’s cook the bay and body-friendly way. Best Fishes! John Shields.”
The author—a groundbreaking chef, serial restaurateur, and television host—is globally acknowledged as the authority on Chesapeake cuisine, as well as a leader for environmental causes pertaining to foodways, health, and economic justice. Many know him simply as John, a man with a contagious smile who cannot resist a corny joke or a conversation.
In 1990, decades before Maryland restaurants prioritized farm-to-table eating and locavore mores, Shields published the original Chesapeake Bay Cookbook, extolling the virtues of eating seasonal food grown locally, as well as strategically supporting Maryland-based watermen, farmers, and small businesses through meals that high- light the region’s bounty and cooking style.
“Chesapeake cuisine is a sense of place, of being rooted here,” he explains in an interview, describing the largest estuary in North America and its thousands of tributaries and creeks, with a climate that varies from the Appalachians to the Atlantic Ocean, as a teeming protein factory. According to Shields, Chesapeake cooking is about utilizing the freshest regional foods available and treating them simply and reverently to let those flavors come through.