David Valencia, executive chef at Ermano’s Craft Beer & Wine Bar, 220 N. Fourth Ave., grew up in a house of music, and for a time pursued his own musical itch as a full-time musician. But life on the road was hard, and his indie/alternative “experimental” music wasn’t getting the reception he’d hoped.
He took a job at Jerry Bob’s and worked on the egg station. “I didn’t know how to cook an egg to save my life,” he recalls. “But the cook was really patient with me and I learned how to poach eggs, make omelets. That’s where I really started dabbling in cooking.”
He went to Pima Community College’s culinary program, and after graduation went to work for Albert Hall at Acacia. “Albert was very demanding, wanting more and more. He would yell at us a lot, but I understood he was pushing me to be better, and I wanted to be better.”
Eventually, Valencia moved to Chicago, where he worked for Charlie Trotter’s in “an old school French kitchen. I got yelled at every day. But that’s where I learned if you want to be the best, you have to push yourself.”
Returning to Tucson, Valencia and his girlfriend, Bri Gateron, a pastry chef, decided to start a pop-up restaurant,renting space and serving multi-course meals. They did this for three months under the name Urban Belly, later called Sanar. Valencia kept videos, photos and recipes as a visual business plan in the hopes of finding an investor interested in giving him a start at his own kitchen.
It worked. Rob Paulus, the architect for Ermano’s, recommended him to the owners, brothers Mark and Eric Erman. They hit it off. Valencia says he now has the opportunity to prepare dishes “outside the box. Like my music, I get to experiment, and people trust me with their palate.”
Where Valencia now works is the same location he scouted several years ago for his own restaurant. “It was meant to be. If you want something bad enough, you’ll stop at nothing,” he said. “That’s what I did and now I have this great opportunity.”