Jake Welshans, a gung-ho fan of the University of Michigan and native of Ann Arbor, landed in Hollywood. Six years later, he’s the producer of reality shows, including his latest project with Bachelor in Paradise in Mexico this summer. But the glitz and the weeks away on-set have not dampened his love of the grates.
WERE YOU EVER A PRODUCER OF A REALITY SHOW ABOUT FOOD? I did The Taste on ABC. I got to rub elbows with Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre. That was a big one for me. As a foodie, I learned how much I didn’t know. Their food is so incredible. I got to eat at Ludo’s restaurant and share his food.
DID THE TV CHEFS JUMPSTART YOUR GRILLING OBSESSION? I learned the art of grilling from my Dad. He’s old school, though. Only uses a charcoal Weber grill—and has for 40 years. If you ask him, and even if you don’t, he’ll give you a 30-minute tutorial on proper coal preparation and the history of coal.
WHAT’S YOUR LATEST CRAZE? I’ve been really into grilling whole vegetables, like squash the size of a big kosher pickle. I rub them down with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little garlic, and grill them whole. They cook a little different. They almost become meaty.
WHAT ABOUT SAUCES? A while back I got an inspiration to make my own mustards.
ISN’T MUSTARD COMPLEX? It’s easy. Take whole yellow or brown mustard seeds, soak them overnight in a liquid, depending on the flavor you want—rice wine vinegar, beer, even white wine. The next morning, the seeds have absorbed the liquid and get good and plump. Then add spices and blend to whatever consistency you want. My favorite was a spicy brown mustard where I used a habanero beer.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU MESS UP? I have no fear of messing up. I learn more from messing up. This mustard I was making was a semi-failed experiment so I made a spicy barbecue sauce out of it by adding cayenne and apple cider vinegar and boiled it down until it was the right consistency.
WHY SUCH A BIG SAUCE GUY? My fiancé loves sauces. I call her the Condiment Queen. Now I’m the Sauce Boss. To get a crunchy texture on chicken on the grill, I toss the chicken in the barbecue sauce before I put it on with the intention of it completely burning.
YOU BURN YOUR CHICKEN ON PURPOSE? I love crunchy texture. The barbecue sauce burns a crust on it. Once that happens, I start building layers of barbecue sauce. Every couple of minutes, I put another layer on. That burned part almost absorbs the sauce and makes a crispy barbecue skin. You have to start putting sauce on it right away, though. When it’s done, it’s crunchy and sticky and flavorful.
WHAT’S THE BEST SPICE FOR GRILLING SAUCES? Cayenne. It creeps up on you. It adds heat but without overpowering the sauce. It’s subtle but adds a big punch with a little warmth.
FAVORITE CUT OF MEAT? New York strip. Thick cut. Because you can get a good sear, but it’s not got a whole lot of fat, so you don’t get a lot of flare up. It’s tender all the way through. I don’t put any sauce on a steak. It’s just straight meat.
FAVORITE THING TO GRILL? Any sausage. Because it’s easy. Big ole bratwurst or a spicy sausage, like linguica—that’s a South American sausage. Sausage is the easiest thing to make and looks really impressive. Fire on sausage makes it so much better. It always turns out great.
DO YOU JUST SLAP IT ON A BUN? I’ll go to the butcher and grab a bunch of different kinds of sausages and grill them all up. Then I slice them up and put out mustards and pickles and serve as appetizers. There’s something a little bit naughty about it.
WHAT’S YOUR SPECIALTY? I’m big on the combo bite. So all the dishes in a meal go together. I want each bite to be a great experience, like crunchy asparagus with creamy sweet moments where I close my eyes and my fiancé thinks I’ve gone mad, because I’m so into it.
WHAT’S THAT THING YOU WISH ALL AMATEUR GRILLERS KNEW? I always see people overcook chicken to a rubbery blob. They’re afraid of the middle being pink. Another one is they don’t let their steak—any meat—rest after they cook it. I see pictures, and the plate’s all bloody and juicy. They’re posting it with pride, but it’s really an amateur steak shot and they don’t even know it.