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Venezuela meets West Virginia

Fred Sauceman • Updated Sep 28, 2016 at 8:41 AM

There are many large American cities that have no Venezuelan restaurants. But you can find one in Elkins, West Virginia, population 7,214. It’s called El Gran Sabor, “the great taste.” There’s a more familiar Mexican section on the menu, but dishes like Venezuelan cachapas are catching on in this part of the Mountain State.

On our visit, we order solely from the Venezuelan section. Nine dishes arrive. There are black beans, fried plantains, Latin rice, yuca with onions, an empanada, an arepa stuffed with slow-roasted pork, chicken soup, a shredded beef dish, and the cachapa. El Gran Sabor owner Derdlim Lopez Masten says it took her three months to get the cachapa recipe close to what she had eaten in her native Venezuela.

Cachapas are corn cakes cooked on a griddle or in a skillet. Typically, at roadside stands in Venezuela, they are stuffed with cheese and sometimes roast pork. At her Elkins restaurant, Derdlim offers fillings of chicken, beef, pork, ham and cheese, and cheese and mushrooms. Cachapas are folded over, in the shape of tacos.

The batter contains corn, a central element in the Venezuelan diet. When West Virginia ramps are in season, says our server Madalyn Humphrey, those wild mountain leeks enliven the Venezuelan cachapas. “Try cachapas one time and you’ll be back,” Derdlim tells us. Derdlim came to Elkins in 2000 to stay with a cousin. A year later, she met her future husband, Rob Masten, who was playing in a local salsa band. She had grown up dancing to the music of salsa and merengue and thought Rob needed some help with his moves

They married a year later. There is a small performance hall in the back of their restaurant, and it has become a mecca for regional musicians. Derdlim is right at home in the West Virginia mountains. She grew up in Mérida, Venezuela, a city with an elevation of about 5,300 feet in the Andes. South American cooking is underrepresented in many parts of America. Derdlim Masten is doing her part to change that, one flavorful cachapa at a time.

El Gran Sabor

413 Kerens Avenue Elkins,

West Virginia

304-636-8200 elgransabor.com

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