At home with chef Sarah Welch

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

Sarah Welch, the executive chef of Republic and Parks & Rec Diner, both located in downtown Detroit, was born in Ann Arbor, but spent a lot of time as a child in Jamaica. Her parents owned a resort there.

The chef said she remembers, starting at age 6, helping cook at the resort there and with kids in the neighborhood.

“The Jamaican kids would often cook for fun and I was fascinated by that and wanted to do what they were doing,” the Detroit resident said.

After getting a Bachelor of Arts degree in business from Michigan State University in 2009, Welch attended The French Culinary Institute in New York to get her culinary degree and also interned four nights a week for April Bloomfield, the renowned chef of the Spotted Pig restaurant in New York.

In 2010, Welch decided to move back to Michigan and ended up working at the Forest Grill in Birmingham for two years, followed by a long stint as sous chef at Mani Osteria in Ann Arbor.

Then “I decided I wanted to get out of town and explore the food scene around the country, because I knew I was going to end up in the food industry,” said Welch, 28. “I drove the entire U.S, with my Australian Shepherd, Quincy, over the course of four months, stopping to eat in all of the major cities along my route”

Upon her return, Welch helped Brad Greenhill, the owner of Katoi in Detroit, with catering until October of 2014, when she accepted a position as the sous chef of Republic. Shortly after, she took on the role of executive chef in the spring of 2015 at Republic Tavern before opening Parks & Rec Diner later that year.

Welch said she cooks a lot at her Detroit home, along with her boyfriend, Cameron Rolka, who is the sous chef at Katoi in Detroit.

“We go to local farmers markets to get a lot of our ingredients,” she said. “Toast and eggs are our go-to breakfast” she said. “Both of our families make household jams and are into breadmaking, so we must have gotten that from them. Last year I went to Ireland and found that every restaurant has a different recipe for Irish brown bread. It is served essentially everywhere … even in the pubs. After coming home, we knew it would be something we would need to learn how to make, so we adapted the recipe from a school in Ireland called Ballymaloe Cookery School and we’ve used it ever since.”

Irish Brown Bread with Jam and Eggs

Irish Bread (recipe below)

Strawberry preserves (recipe below)

2 tablespoons butter, for eating with bread

4 eggs, cooked sunny side up

1 teaspoon. Maldon salt

For the Irish bread

400 grams whole-wheat flour, preferably stone-ground

50 grams bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup dark beer

9 ounces tepid water

1 tablespoon dark molasses

1 cup rolled oats

1 tablespoon maldon salt

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Mix the flours with the salt in a medium bowl. Pour beer into a small bowl and stir in the molasses. Once the beer and molasses are combined, stir in yeast, then let stand until it starts to foam on top, about 10 minutes. Pour the yeast mixture and the water into the flour and stir until a batter is formed. Let stand 10 minutes.

Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment before placing dough into the prepared pan. Cover lightly with terry towel over the top and let rise until the dough reaches the top of the pan, about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and before baking bread, brush with butter, oats, and maldon salt.

Bake the bread for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, decrease the heat to 400 degrees, release bread from the pan and place the loaf upside down directly on the baking rack and let bake another 15 minutes, or until done. The bread is ready when you tap the bottom and it sounds hollow and the internal temperature should read 190 degrees. Let the bread cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Strawberry preserves

3 3/4 cup crushed strawberries

4 tablespoons lemon juice

7 cups granulated sugar

1 pouch liquid pectin

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Combine strawberries, lemon juice and sugar and over high heat, bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down. Mix in pectin and boil for one full minute, then chill to serve or prepare cans according to ball jar instructions and process for 10 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 250 calories; 2 g fat (0.4 g saturated fat; 7 percent calories from fat); 50 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 1,030 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 7 g fiber.

Jerk Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Dressing and Greens

Jerk sauce (recipe below)

1 pound organic chicken wings

1 tablespoon. Melted butter

Blue cheese dressing (recipe below)

Farm greens (buy Artisan Farms greens at Whole Foods, they are local and my personal favorite!)

For the jerk sauce

1 bunch of scallions diced (green onions) (1/2 cup dried green onion)

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 small onion diced

1 Scotch bonnet pepper diced (can substitute habanero)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1 clove fresh garlic finely diced

For a dry rub, blend all of the dried ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Or crush it all together in a mortar with a pestle.

Rub wings in oil, and then in the dry spice.

Marinade until charcoal grill is ready.

Grill over charcoal until internal temperature is 155 degrees and outside of wings are lightly charred.

Blue cheese dressing

1/3 cup blue cheese

1/4 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons nonolive oil (grapeseed, canola, safflower)

3 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon minced shallot (or onion)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Blend all using blender or immersion blender. Dress greens with blue cheese. Top with chicken wings. Serves 4.

Per serving: 369 calories; 28 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 68 percent calories from fat); 9 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 112 mg cholesterol; 946 mg sodium; 21 g protein; 3 g fiber.

This bibimbap meal includes cooked Carolina Gold rice, farro, steak, sesame spinach, pickled mushrooms and Gochujang Vinaigrette.

Bibimbap with Pickled Vegetables and New York Strip

2 cups cooked Carolina Gold rice (recipe below)

2 cups cooked Anson Mills farro (recipe below)

1 cup pickled mushrooms (recipe below)

1 cup sesame spinach (recipe below)

1 cup carrots, cut matchstick

1 cup bean sprouts

1 pound shaved New York strip

1 cup gochujang vinaigrette (recipe below)

4 duck eggs, cooked sunny-side up

Gochujang paste, to garnish

Micro-cilantro (available at Whole Foods), to garnish

For the rice

2 cups Carolina Plantation Aromatic Rice (about 1 pound)

4 cups water

Wash rice three times to remove starch from rice. Bring rice to a simmer in water until rice is tender. Strain off any excess water. Place on sheet tray and bake until the rice is completely cooked. Saran wrap it to steam the rice a bit, and save until ready to use.

For the farro

1 cup farro

3 cups chicken stock

Cover farro with water and soak in the refrigerator overnight. Drain; place in a pot and add water or stock to cover, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid.

Pickled Mushrooms

4 cups dried shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 cup light or dark soy sauce

1 cup rice wine vinegar

3/4 cup sugar

1 piece fresh ginger, peeled

Combine soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and ginger in a 4-quart saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Pour hot over mushrooms and let sit until the mushrooms absorb pickle liquid.

Sesame Spinach

4 cups water

1 pound spinach

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Cook spinach in boiling water, then shock in ice water to preserve color. Drain water, then squeeze out any excess moisture. Chop spinach and mix with remaining ingredients.

Gochujang Vinaigrette

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)

1 teaspoon garlic

1 teaspoon ginger

1 scallion

Combine all in blender and puree till smooth.

To assemble the bibimbap, mix rice and farro together, season with a bit of salt and sesame oil, then place 1/2 cup in four bowls. Place 1/4 cup of spinach, mushrooms, sprouts, matchstick carrots, on top of rice. In a screaming hot pan, drop down sliced steak using a bit of oil to lubricate pan. Add the gochujang vinaigrette to the pan and allow sauce to coat steak. Remove steak from the pan onto a cutting board and chop roughly. Divide between the bowls.

Meanwhile, heat another pan to cook the eggs in — cook eggs sunny-side up. Put one egg on each of the bowls, season with salt. Top all the bowls with micro-cilantro and a teaspoon of additional gochujang. Eat while still warm, chopping and mixing bites to your liking. Serves 4.

Per serving: 677 calories; 22 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 29 percent calories from fat); 66 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 689 mg cholesterol; 1,433 mg sodium; 51 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Aunt Wanda’s Cheesecake with Peach Almond Conserva

For the graham crust

16 graham crackers

1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Crush crackers into crumbs, then mix with butter. Press into pan bottom and up the sides.

Cream cheese filling

12 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

Mix cream cheese and sugar. Beat eggs well, then to the cream cheese sugar mixture add vanilla, then mix well. Pour into graham cracker pan and bake 20 minutes.

Sour cream topping

1 cup sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix sour cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until combined. After the 20 minutes of baking, spoon the sour cream topping on top of the baking cheesecake and then bake another 5 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack. Refrigerate before serving.

Peach Almond Conserva

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup pitted peeled peach

1/4 cup orange, peeled and membrane removed

7/8 cup brown sugar

1/8 cup Luxardo cherries

1/4 cup sliced toasted almonds

Tie cloves, allspice, cinnamon into a piece of cheesecloth. Combine peaches, oranges and cheesecloth sack into a pot and bring to a boil stirring constantly. Reduce heat and boil gently for 15 minutes, until fruit is soft. Add sugar and return to boil, boiling hard 15 more minutes, until mixture thickens. Stir in cherries and almonds. Remove from heat and check consistency (when placed on a frozen plate, the mixture should gel). Remove and discard spice satchel.

Malted Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 tablespoons malt powder

1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

Place cream in chilled mixing bowl with brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Whip cream with malt powder until stiff peaks form.

Serves 8.

Per serving: 621 calories; 42 g fat (23 g saturated fat; 61 percent calories from fat); 56 g carbohydrates; 47 g sugar; 171 mg cholesterol; 304 mg sodium; 7 g protein; 1.5 g fiber.