Some chefs are born with a love of food and cooking and their earliest memories are of perching on a chair or ladder helping mommy cook. Erick Del Valle wasn’t one of these; infatuation hit him late and hard.
So there he was, a high school student in Caracas, Venezuela, about to graduate, become a college major in economics, a business career carefully planned, when his father invited him to go along on a business trip. Software was the business, more specifically P.O.S. software for high-end restaurants.
“I walked into a restaurant kitchen in the middle of the dinner rush,” recalls Erick, “and it was amazing. The chef offered me a part time job and I said ‘Okay, let’s try it out.’ And the next day, there I was cleaning a chicken and I just fell in love. My parents told me, ‘Do what you want to do, just try to do your best,’ and so I went off to cooking school at La Casserole du Chef, which was the best in Venezuela. And there, as I saw how everything fit together, I fell in love, totally and completely.”
There was a chef named Nino Graziano, whose restaurant in Sicily earned two Michelin stars. Somehow he ended up in Caracas and Erick ended up working for him.
“One of the best chefs I ever worked for and I learned techniques I use today,” says Erick. “I would have stayed there forever, but the restaurant suddenly closed.”
At a restaurant called DOC (no relation to Doc’s), which used only produce grown in Venezuela, Erick learned the value of fresh and local. He then moved to Argentina, worked at a sushi place, founded a catering company (he made great food but business in the slow months wasn’t enough to live on) and moved on to work at Oporto Almacen. That was a trendy, upscale, see-and-be-seen place in Buenos Aires that happened to serve excellent food. Erick continued to learn, and all that time he was going to college.
Then came 2016. An economic collapse in Venezuela left his family unable to pay tuition, so he was forced to leave college just 8 credits short of graduation.
Erick has a brother named Frank Cedeno who grew up in the United States and is well-known in the Tulsa food scene. “Come to Tulsa,” Frank always told him, “you’ll work hard but it’s a good life.” Erick wanted to finish college first, but it didn’t happen.
In October of 2016, he flew to Tulsa. Three days later, he was working at Doc’s.
“When I first came I was like a sponge,” he recalls, “soaking up knowledge, learning Cajun, learning Creole, getting inspiration from everything I saw.”
Tim Richards was executive chef at Doc’s then. He’s known for spotting talent and fostering it, and that’s exactly what he did. Erick slowly rose in the ranks and, in 2020, became executive chef himself.
It’s a glorious promotion, but it meant more work, not less.
“There are no days off for me,” he says. He creates dishes, orders produce, and most days, you can still find him working with the other line cooks. If he ever gets a vacation, he wants to travel … to eat at other restaurants.
“I want to visit New York and Chicago,” he says. “The food scene there is amazing. That’s how I get inspired to create my own dishes.”
In Argentina, Erick learned the term “cocina de autor.” That means, Erick explains, to learn from all cooking styles but not to get trapped by any of them. To create dishes that respect the ingredients, using simple techniques that let the meat and produce shine, yet also express the chef’s unique personality. That’s what Erick does. And he loves it.
If you’d passed by the kitchen a few minutes later, you would have seen Erick dicing potatoes, a big smile on his face, relaxed and happy, trading jokes with the other cooks on the line.
Pan seared pistachio crusted halibut over black garlic mashed potatoes, grilled mixed zucchini and yellow squash in salmoriglio and tarragon butter and white wine sauce.
For the crust: Toast 1 cup of pistachios in oven for 12 minutes at 450 degrees. Let it cool and process until you get fine crumbs.
For the tarragon butter and white wine sauce:
- ½ lb of butter room temperature
- 1 small shallot
- 1/2 Tbs minced garlic
- 2 lemon zest and juice
- 2 bbs chopped tarragon.
- ½ cup of white wine
Place all the ingredients in food processor or mixer. Process until it’s soft.
To finish the sauce add butter in a pan and add the white wine. Whisk until it’s all mixed together.
For black garlic mashed Potatoes:
- 2 lbs. of Yukon potatoes
- 2 tbs sour cream
- 3 tbs butter
- 1 tbs black garlic paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and cook potatoes until you get a soft texture, drain and add remaining ingredients. Season to taste.
For grilled vegetables.
Cut diagonal zucchini and yellow squash, place on the grill for 2 minutes on each side brushing constantly with salmoriglio (Sicilian condiment made with olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic and parsley)
For the fish:
Cook 4 halibut fillets in hot skillet (four 6oz. fillets) from skinless side for about 3 minutes until you get a nice brown crust.
Flip over and add a dash of white wine and 1 tsp of butter and add to the oven to 450 degrees for 4 minutes.
Add pistachio dust and broil for 1 min.
Ready to plate and enjoy!