Executive chef dishing up flavorful options at St. Clair Inn

Chef Jacob Verstegen is excited to bring fresh culinary options to St. Clair.
The Executive Chef at the newly renovated St. Clair Inn, Jacob Verstegen, never wanted to be a chef. 

"It was a mistake," he says of how he ended up in the kitchen. 

He had gone to college at the University of Wisconsin to study music and accounting but found he wasn't a good enough Unique, flavorful dishes fill the seasonal menu at 1926.student. 

After dropping out of school, he got a job in a kitchen, because "kitchens are always hiring," says Verstegen. "Once you step foot in a kitchen, that's it. You have to scratch that itch." 

From there he traveled all over the world, including France, Spain, Germany, Japan, and Brazil to study different cooking methods and world cuisines. 

"I have a wide-range background, and I take all those experiences and put them onto a plate," says Verstegen. 

He settled in Chicago and cooked for notable places in the city such as the Peninsula Hotel, the Telegraph Wine Bar, and most recently, the London House, before moving to Michigan to head up the dining spaces at the St. Clair Inn. 

"It's nice," he says. "I am happy to come back to that slower pace and be more community focused." 

Having grown up in a village in Wisconsin, Verstegen is familiar with the small-town charm that St. Clair and the Inn offered. 

Chef Jacob Verstegen works at a station in the kitchen."Coming from the London House to this Landmark property, built in 1926 and renovated," he says of the Inn. "I didn't know what to expect. I saw the building and it sparked a fire. I fell in love with the idea of the project."  

Once Verstegen was situated in Michigan, he spent his first six weeks visiting and forging partnerships with local farms. "I came to farms to find out what's gonna grow, and make sense, and talked to the farmers." 

That dedication to learning about the produce and ingredients available in eastern Michigan is something Verstegen has always prided himself on: a commitment to local, organic, and seasonal products wherever he goes. 

Because of that commitment to fresh, unprocessed foods, he will never make himself his own favorite dish ever again, until it can become more sustainable and responsible to prepare: Otoro Tuna, which is the fatty, belly portion of the tuna fish. 

"It has a butter, fish flavor, it's amazing," he says. 

Verstegen says that along with fermented rice granules, a gastrique sauce, and pickled fresh wasabi, it's one of the best A variety of seasonal dishes fill the menu at 1926 Restaurant at the St. Clair Inn.dishes he has ever had. 

But tuna is often overfished and it is not sustainable to catch it specifically for one part of the fish. "Otoro is not sustainable," he says. "We shouldn't choose flavor over the health of the ocean."  

As far as presenting plates to guests, Verstegen says it's not about what you do notice about the plate, but what you don't. "I was trained to predict what people want—intuitive service." 

The Inn features seven restaurants and a bar. The 1926 serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Sky Bar features unobstructed river views and outdoor terrace and experimental menu with beer, wine, and cocktails. The Dive offers simple, casual dining. 

The Fireside Lounge offers a space to relax while you enjoy snacks and beverages; savor English tea and scones at the Sapphire Room; sip cocktails or munch snacks poolside at the Sandbar; and revisit the time when alcohol was illegal to consume and sell at Prohibition an old-styled speakeasy. 

Creating great food is all about the details, according to Chef Jacob Verstegen."We have a special occasion space, 1926, or a community space with the Dive," says Verstegen. "We have something for everyone." 

The Inn likes to say that "Every Stay Has a Story," and that story makes the Inn so unique and important to guests.

Verstegen is hoping to follow that same course in the kitchens of the inn.

"We're serving something that belongs in a certain time and place, and that is the current snapshot of St. Clair. It tastes great."