Veteran chef Tom Shields is both the executive chef and part owner of Spark Woodfire Grill in Huntington Beach. Tom has been in the restaurant business for his entire working life, which began in his home town of Westchester, New York.
As many great chefs have done before him, Tom began his career in the kitchen at the bottom and worked his way up the ranks. At just 12 years old, he started as a dishwasher in a banquet hall to earn spending money when his parents would not grant him an allowance. He says he was intrigued pretty early on with what the cooks were doing and he liked how they had the ability to “do whatever they wanted with food.”
Tom did not remain a dishwasher for very long. He worked for the next 13 years in various roles in many different kitchens as a prep cook, line cook, and sous chef. Then, in 1987, he decided it was time to fortify this experience with formal training, so he enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Tom went through the rigorous two-year chef program and trained under the CIA’s celebrated master chefs, gaining even more culinary chops. It was here that Tom honed his appreciation for American food.
Upon graduating, Tom worked Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe, then at numerous other respectable restaurants such as Parker’s Seafood Grill in Newport Beach, Glendale Grill in Glendale, and Parker’s Lighthouse in Long Beach. Tom also became the regional chef for Louise’s Trattoria.
In 1998, Tom’s life changed dramatically when he and his new wife and baby moved to Colorado. However, he soon discovered that his heart was back in California, so he and his family returned to Orange County. Upon returning, Tom serendipitously contacted his old business partners from Louise’s and discovered that they were joining forces to open Spark, and that they were interested in partnering with him as the Executive Chef. Tom accepted the offer and embarked on the fun challenge of opening his own restaurant. That was back in 2001, and Spark of Huntington Beach has been going ever since.
At Spark, Tom’s menu focuses on what has always inspired him – American cuisine. His contemporary take on the menu features dishes like hickory grilled chicken breast served over soft polenta with caramelized onions and fresh vegetables, and a Prime steak sandwich, served open faced on toasted garlic bread and smothered with onion rings. He utilizes specialized cooking methods, such as a 1600-degree broiler that maintains the integrity of the meat by cooking it quickly. Tom also uses local produce and sustainable products whenever possible to insure his food is always at its best.