About a Boy

Appears in the August 2021 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Chef Niño? The boy chef? Sounds, at first blush, like a curious nickname for Areli Valencia, the new executive chef at Catch 35 in Naperville, who’s been working there and at its sister restaurants for 36 years. This is a man, after all, whose artful takes on seafood classics—think crab and scallop risotto or Parmesan-Asiago halibut—are far from child’s play.

Nevertheless, Valencia takes great pride in his adopted sobriquet. It’s a reminder of his past: how he accepted a dishwashing job at Lloyd’s Chicago at age 16, only to ascend by intently studying how others cooked and then outworking everyone. It’s also a reminder of his childhood in Mexico, where he helped raise livestock, cultivate vegetables, and mastered the art of frijoles y huevos.

Valencia leaned into those memories to help Catch 35 launch a new to-go-only ghost kitchen called—you guessed it—Niño’s Fresh Mexican Kitchen. The menu is filled with comforting Latin fare, like crab-and-guacamole quesadillas, al pastor-style wings, and fish tacos with pineapple salsa and pepper aïoli.

“I want my guests to leave satisfied and wanting to come back to try more,” says Valencia, who hopes to kindle the inner niño in all of us.

Photos courtesy Catch 35