(Editor's note: This is the third in a six-part series by students from the P.I. Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. The students traveled to Elkins in January as part of their West Virginia Uncovered Immersion Weekend project.)
When Derdlim Masten learned to cook for her siblings in Venezuela, she never realized how important it would become in her life.
Masten now owns and operates El Gran Sabor, an authentic Venezuelan restaurant in Elkins. In addition to being head chef, Masten serves food, tends the bar, handles the finances, and takes care of anything else that comes her way.
With the restaurant depending on her, she can rarely afford to take a day off. Masten says she prefers to cook using her creativity instead of using recipes.
Besides serving authentic Venezuelan food, Masten says El Gran Sabor's goal is to offer a warm and friendly place for customers to enjoy.
Rob Masten, Derdlim's husband and the co-owner, chats with customers when he gets back to Elkins from his job as a music teacher in Tucker County.
PREPPING — Derdlim Masten chops lettuce while prepping food for dinner. In addition to tending bar, accounting and cleaning, Masten spends most of her time at El Gran Sabor in the kitchen, where she prepares authentic Venezuelan food. (Photo by Mallory Bracken)
BIRTHDAY — Customers celebrate a birthday at El Gran Sabor. Many customers, including these, have become regulars and enjoy a warm relationship with restaurant owners, Derdlim and Rob Masten. Photo by Mallory Bracken
PERFORMING — The Bluegrass band, Born Old, performs at El Gran Sabor, which hosts live music every Wednesday and Friday from local and visiting musicians. According to El Gran Sabor co-owner, Derdlim Masten, the live music is very important to the business and is what attracts many customers. Photo by Mallory Bracken
WATCHFUL EYE — While her four-year-old son, Andres, looks on, Derdlim Masten preps food before her restaurant begins serving dinner. Because Masten and her family live above the restaurant, her children spend a lot of time downstairs in the business.
The couple met over live music when Derdlim was visiting America.
They were both at a bar featuring Salsa music. Derdlim noticed Rob needed help with his dancing.
They married a few years later in 2002, and Derdlim became a naturalized American citizen in 2008.
What is the
West Virginia Uncovered Project?
The "West Virginia Uncovered" project was created to cultivate online innovation and storytelling among the Mountain State's community newspapers.
Since 2008, students from the West Virginia University P.I. Reed School of Journalism have crisscrossed the back roads and small towns of West Virginia, working with about a dozen weekly newspapers and looking for untold stories. In addition, the participating newspapers receive training in online and multimedia journalism at WVU. The West Virginia Uncovered project is supported by grants from the McCormick Foundation, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
Each year, organizers choose a different small town as a setting for their stories. Elkins was selected for the January project.
Elkins native Mary Kay McFarland is the project coordinator. For the Elkins visit, she was assisted by coaches Bob Lynn, a former photo editor at The Virginia Pilot; Doug Mitchell, an adjunct professor at City University of New York who also has worked for NPR; and Sara Magee, PhD, who teaches in the broadcast sequence at WVU.
To learn more about the program and view other projects, visit http://wvuncovered.wvu.edu/
Whether it's through the food, music, dancing or simply the atmosphere, the Mastens have brought a piece of Venezuela home to Elkins.