How chef Art Smith’s world famous fried chicken got its competitive edge

An unlikely partnership with Chicago's first professional rugby team brought the celebrity chef's newest concept to life at Time Out Market Chicago.

Isaiah Reynolds
Written by
Isaiah Reynolds
Assistant Editor
A person holding a chicken sandwich
Photograph: Time Out Market

A new, winning American combination has been born: rugby and fried chicken.

From the mind of Art Smith, a two-time James Beard Award winner and long-time celebrity chef who’s collaborated with Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga, comes a new fried chicken concept at Time Out Market ChicagoSporty Bird.

Smith, a Florida native who still calls Chicago one of his homes, was inspired by his roots to bring Southern cooking to the world.

“I come from very southern America,” Smith said. “I grew up with a very Southern mother and grandmothers and aunts, and food was a very central part of who we are as a family. And no, we didn’t eat fried chicken every day.”

His most notable foray into batter-fried poultry was the fried chicken at Table Fifty-Two (which closed and reopened as Blue Door Kitchen and Garden in 2016) in the Gold Coast. The “world-famous” fried chicken expanded to other Southern restaurants including Reunion at Navy Pier, Art and Soul in Washington, D.C. and farm-to-table eatery Homecomin' in Disney Springs. 

But at 64 years of age and having spent decades in the food industry, Smith was unsure of his next culinary adventure until an unexpected sports partnership reinvigorated him. 

After reading an article about soccer superstar Lionel Messi’s chicken sandwich collaboration with the Hard Rock Cafe, the chef couldn’t help but look at the offering and think, “This looks like fast food—I can do better.”

Following the founding of Chicago’s first professional rugby team, the Chicago Hounds, Smith jumped at an opportunity to introduce his culinary talents to the world of sports.

“So I called [the Chicago Hounds] and I said, 'I want to make a chicken sandwich,'” Smith recalled.

Art smith
Photograph: Time Out Market

Joining the Chicago Hounds as a co-owner in 2024, Smith developed his chicken sandwich to be available at both Time Out Market Chicago and SeatGeek Stadium, where the Hounds play their matches. He teamed up with rugby player Lucas Cancelier and former Jade Court owner Carol Cheung to help bridge the gap between sports and food.

Each dish is a personal story by Smith—the Sporty Bird sandwich is on housemade ciabatta bread, packing 24-hour marinated chicken and drizzled with special Sporty sauce that's an ode to his Southern roots (although, admittedly, the spice level is not a true representation of his upbringing). The Milanese sandwich nods to the culinary traditions of Argentina, the homeland of Cancelier. 

The Bridgeview sandwich, loaded with Halal chicken, hummus and baba ghanoush on taboon bread, is a homage to the large Arab-American community in the suburb where the Hounds play.

Smith is meticulous with this new food adventure in Time Out Market, even down to the pricing. For under $20, diners can get a hearty fried chicken meal with a heaping serving of mac and cheese and a side salad. 

“I don't like small food,” he said. “I like people to be able to take home what they don't need. I don't succumb to expensive prices.”

From proposed pop-ups to hosting visiting chefs at Sporty Bird, Smith is ambitious for the future of the fried chicken stall at Time Out Market and the potential for more chef-driven cuisine at sports stadiums. 

“I've made fried chicken for the world,” Smith said. “The business is not perfect yet, and I want to make it perfect. And there's a lot of us working on it to make it perfect.

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