Chef Q&A: Wendy Lopez, Tapa Toro

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A native of Michoacan, Mexico, chef Wendy Lopez has been creating what she calls “technique-driven food” since day one at Tapa Toro. Her innovative menu combines traditional Spanish dishes with contemporary flavors and presentations that are unexpected, but still accessible to people visiting Central Florida. Formally trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando, Chef Wendy began her career at the Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Windermere, then worked as a sous chef under Certified Master Chef Russell Scott.  Now her turn to lead, she mentors her staff and gives them opportunities to do what they have a passion for, and to “refine their skills and see where their talents take them,” she says.

What cuisine is your specialty?

Traditional Spanish tapas with a contemporary interpretation.

What’s your favorite local restaurant other than your own?

Shin Jung and Hotto Potto. When I go out, I love to eat Asian food because it’s so different from my day-to-day. I also enjoy the spices used in Asian kitchens, like fresh ginger, five-spice powder, hoisin, chiles and – of course – sriracha.

What’s your go-to meal at home?

Lately it has been chilaquiles – a classic Mexican breakfast made with tortilla strips, cheese and eggs. (But I don’t just eat them for breakfast, I love them any time of day!) There are plenty of chilaquiles recipes out there.

 Where do you shop locally for interesting ingredients?

Many of our ingredients at Tapa Toro are imported from Spain. Jamón ibérico, jamón serrano, chorizo – you name it. I shop local markets for corn, strawberries, oranges and tomatoes when they’re in season in Florida. (Florida-grown tomatoes make a mean gazpacho!) And Freshpoint helps fill in a lot of the gaps in the off-season. When shopping for myself, I love to go to Harvill’s Produce. It’s a little market with great quality produce.

Which kitchen gadget could you not live without?

My pressure cooker and dutch oven. I use them to cook everything from braised rabbit to beef tongue.

 What was your favorite lunch as a kid?

Frozen yogurts. I was easy to please.

What’s your most guilty junk-food pleasure?

White cheddar popcorn always hits the spot.

What 3 things are in your fridge at all times? 

Queso fresco, serrano peppers and refried beans. After a long day taste testing or experimenting in the kitchen, I enjoy coming home to familiar comfort foods.

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