Teacher by Day, Chef by Night: Ernest Valdes


Diane Frey

Mrs. Diane Frey’s model of Mr. Ernest Valdes’s recipe.


Having a sense of community is something Monsieur Ernest Valdes greatly values. Valdes teaches French and Spanish and is heavily involved in the school community as co-advisor for the class of 2023. He demonstrates great dedication to his passions and has been teaching for 22 years, 21 of which have been at Edison High School. Valdes commiserates with this year’s junior class, and the pandemic’s effect on their high school experience, which continues to present issues as events are planned. He understands the importance of socializing and recognizes that students have been grateful for the opportunities they are given to interact with their peers and teachers this year. 

The fact that they can come to my house and eat the foods that they love, without having to go out, is great.

— Ernest Valdes

These same qualities of care and commitment can be observed in Valdes’ love for cooking, of which he gained as he grew up admiring his grandparents’ and father’s cooking. There were six people in his family, making cooking a necessary skill for him.

“Cooking was something I was always watching and being a part of,” he says. Valdes has been cooking for his entire life and has always loved it. He began his journey with mac and cheese from a box and muffins and has now come to cooking cuisines from all over the world.

“Ever since I was little I was fascinated with pots and pans, and watching people cook,” Valdes adds. 

Valdes is Cuban and has family from Spain, so he greatly appreciates dishes from those cultures, but he also he takes great pleasure in experimenting with different cuisines from all over the world. He especially loves exotic foods including French, German, Brazilian, West African, Middle Eastern (Indian), and East Asian cooking. With experience, he has become familiar with these types of cooking, and it has become second nature to him, enabling him to adjust recipes as needed.  

Food creates a sense of community within Mr. Valdes’ home, bringing neighbors, friends, and family together. His ability to make diverse dishes makes his home an ideal destination for his loved ones to gather and enjoy their favorite foods. During the pandemic especially, Mr. Valdes satiates his friend’s cravings, providing home-cooked meals so they do not have to turn to restaurants and fast-food chains. Mr. Valdes exclaims, “The fact that they can come to my house and eat the foods that they love, without having to go out, is great.”

Cooking was something I was always watching and being a part of

— Ernest Valdes

Valdes celebrates holidays from several cultures which gives him more opportunities to explore foods that are often appreciated during these holidays. One example Valdes cites is Diwali, during which he likes to make a variety of Indian dishes. 

Valdes references many “old-school” chefs and finds inspiration from them, appreciating the authentic quality.

“The master chefs have been in the kitchen for so many years, and they have these amazing techniques, I think those are the people that I admire the most,” he affirms. Valdes values experience and the skills that come with it. 

The EHS veteran does not have much professional cooking experience or education other than a Thai cooking class he took at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. Although, he has contemplated pursuing his passion for cooking professionally in the past. He even considered opening a restaurant in which he “would be at the heart of the recipes.” However, he ultimately made the decision that it would be impossible for him to manage a restaurant and continue teaching, sacrificing the restaurant in favor of his first talent to teach. 

Valdes’ Simple Salad Topping Recipe:

Soak red onions in juice of one lime for 15-20 minutes.  Slice an avocado and add it to the lime and red onions.

Add some diced grape tomatoes, a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on lettuce as a salad or as a garnish for meat or vegetarian tacos or tostados.