To say that John Somerville took a less-than-conventional approach to donning the chef’s coat would be an understatement. After earning an engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Somerville, an Ohio native, did a complete 180 and took his first steps into a larger culinary world, working under chef Gary Danko at West Bloomfield’s The Lark.
With no formal training, Somerville began his career as the garde manger, learning the tricks of the trade as he progressed on to grill and sous chef before becoming Chef de Cuisine in 2006. His bold style and enthusiasm for the kitchen would soon garner national attention, including two nominations for the acclaimed James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes and an appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef.
Somerville likes to take an organic approach to his dishes, preferring fresh ingredients from local farms in Michigan, Ohio and Ontario. His favorite dishes include a cast-iron roasted Maine lobster (“live, never frozen”) and a delicious and crispy soft-shelled crab, both with “very dramatic presentations,” he noted.
An abundance of friendly faces and a diverse community have helped make Somerville feel right at home in metro Detroit. “The diversity of people in West Bloomfield makes up a great community,” he beamed. Plus, it’s close enough to his old stomping grounds in Ann Arbor that he can hop over whenever the urge hits him, perhaps stopping by Marnee Thai to enjoy their “great flavor combinations.” Other favorite spots include Troy’s Mon Jin Lau and Joe Muer Seafood in Detroit.
Outside the kitchen, Somerville can be found biking it down Hines Drive, filling his cultural cup at the Detroit Institute of Arts, or gallivanting around Hart Plaza, unless of course there’s a Detroit Lions, Tigers or Pistons game on TV. Then his eyes will be glued to the action.
Rack of Lamb Genghis Khan
Prepared by Chef John Somerville, The Lark
3 lamb racks (8 ribs each) trimmed and silverskin removed
1 cup hoisin sauce
1 cup onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Cayenne pepper, ground
2 teaspoons Coleman’s mustard powder
2 teaspoons black pepper, ground
2 tablespoons salt
1 cup water
Place the lamb and marinade in a plastic bag, tie, and place in refrigerator for 48 hours, turning occasionally. Remove lamb from marinade and let stand at room temperature 1 hour before cooking. Brush with hoisin sauce. Place lamb on rack in shallow roasting pan and roast in hot oven, 450 degrees, for 15 to 25 minutes for rare lamb, depending on the size of the racks, or longer for a greater degree of doneness. Let rest for 6 or 7 minutes before carving.
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