Top Chef Goodbye Interviews: John Somerville

The Michigan chef was the first to pack his knives and go. We spoke to him about 17 cooks in one kitchen, other (possibly cocky) contestants, and those crazy long dreads.

He says he’s the most talented chef of the lot, but he was sent packing first. Photograph courtesy of Bravo TV.

Everyone’s favorite reality cooking show is back, and it has a new star: our fair city. Season seven of Top Chef premiered this week with beauty shots of the cherry blossoms, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol—not to mention a new judge, Eric Ripert of DC’s Westend Bistro. And of course, there was a whole lot of drama. After enduring a mise en place Quickfire that featured bloody potatoes and a $20,000 cash prize, the cheftestants prepared cocktail fare that was supposed to reflect their roots and personalities. Alas, dreadlocked Michigan chef John Somerville disappointed the judges with an overly sweet maple-mousse napoleon that was long on the packaged puff pastry and short on the maple flavor. We spoke to him about how it feels to be the first to leave, the steamy close quarters of the Top Chef kitchen, and which contestant most resembles belligerent Lakers star Ron Artest.

>>For a recap of episode 1, click here.

Were you surprised to be the first to go?
“Absolutely. [Stephen] pounded the living crap out of rib-eye steak and then fried it. And I thought [Jacqueline] was going to have to throw those livers away. I really thought I had a real good chance to win. I’m hoping this shows how legit Top Chef really is. The show is creating a new breed of highly skilled superchefs that can think really fast on the fly.”


Tom kept saying your maple-mousse napolean didn’t “reflect who you are.” Do you think it did?

“Maybe it doesn’t show who I am as an exact, precise chef, though it does show an eclectic, individualistic kind of taste. But the packaged puff pastry really didn’t do me justice.”

What was it like cooking in the Top Chef kitchen?
“The conditions were really, really hot. I was really surprised at the mugginess in the kitchen and how tight it is with 17 people.”

How much pressure did the $20,000 prize add to the mise en place Quickfire race?
“Oh, my God—when you see Tom walk out, Padma walk out, and then you see a huge number of $100 bills wadded up like that, it’s enough to bring down a 92-year-old. Everyone had just sharpened their knives, so they were super sharp. The medic was super busy.”

Is Angelo as cocky as he seems?
“I think he’s a pretty cocky player. He’s also $20,000 richer, so he can make a couple of statements like that. I was also a little taken aback by Kenny’s Ron Artest-style poses and his loud grunts.”

Which have you had longer, your dreads or your culinary career?
“I’ve had them both almost the same amount of time. The dreads are 14 years old. They’re an original, organic expression of myself.”

Did you have a chance to dine out in Washington?
“Unfortunately, my experience of DC was very limited, but I did eat at Restaurant Eve, which I found similar to my own restaurant, using farm-fresh ingredients in a whimsical yet coherent way.”

What have you been up to since the show?
“I’ve come back to the Lark restaurant in West Bloomfield, Michigan. I was the only chef on the show from the Midwest. We need a player.”

Based on your brief time on the show, who’s the most talented chef there?
“As far as what I saw, I think I’m the most talented chef. If things would’ve worked out a little differently, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now.”

>>For more Top Chef DC coverage, click here.

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