Contemporary & Tradition
Take the Plate at Tapa Toro
Originally from Michoacan, Mexico, Wendy Lopez has been cooking since she was a young girl. She received her formal training at Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando and began her career at the Isleworth Golf and Country Club in Windermere, later becoming a sous chef under Certified Master Chef Russell Scott. Now at the young age of 29, Lopez is already making a name for herself as the chef of Tapa Toro restaurant, located on International Drive in Orlando.
“There are so many ‘mom and pops’ to choose from today, you can even find local concepts on International Drive and at the attractions,” said Lopez, regarding the Orlando food scene. “I’m happy Tapa Toro is a part of
There are many different perspectives on culture and cuisine that make Orlando’s fine dining special. For example, nearly half the people in Lopez’s kitchen are women. In fact, what surprised her most about the area was its diversity. “I wasn’t used to seeing a lot of other women or Hispanics in professional kitchens,” she said.
The owners of Tapa Toro sought out a chef who was going to develop over time, and after two years in business, Tapa Toro still continues to evolve into something better and tastier than before. Lopez loved the concept and was excited about the ownership that comes with creating a brand from the ground up.
“Growing up in Mexico, we didn’t eat only Mexican food,” she shared. “We would often make paellas. The flavors of tomatoes, paprika and saffron have always resonated with me, so when the owners approached me about a Spanish tapas restaurant, I was all in.”
Lopez has been with Tapa Toro since it first opened and has had the opportunity to create a unique menu that combines traditional Spanish dishes with contemporary flavors that are unexpected but still palatable to Orlando foodies. “I hope to develop other culinary concepts with the owners,” she said. “I think small plates is my niche, but ‘tapas’ doesn’t necessarily mean Spanish. Hawkers has its own style of tapas, so I think the creative small-plate dining experience is here to stay.”
Success, however, has not come overnight, and Tapa Toro and Lopez have not operated without challenges. Like many chefs before her, she admits staffing is a major challenge. Orlando is uniquely competitive because it has a pool of highly qualified candidates from Le Cordon Bleu and the Rosen College, and with employers like Disney, Darden and big-name chefs who can afford to pay a lot. This landscape can make it difficult for smaller businesses.
“When I graduated from culinary school, so many of my classmates thought they’d go straight to an executive chef or general manager position,” she said. “Now that I’m doing the hiring and firing, I see that same mentality. I feel like you need more than just culinary talent to run a kitchen; you need to work hard and put in the hours before feeling entitled to a leadership position.”
Lopez admits that at 29, she has not neared her career finish line just yet and still has a lot to learn and accomplish. She encourages other foodpreneurs to find something that is unique to them.
“Don’t try to force something that’s out of your realm of food knowledge,” she said. “I’m not saying you can’t grow and develop into something, but when starting, do something you do well. There will be lots of things to figure out, and your culinary style shouldn’t be one of them.”
For more information, or to check out the menu, visit online at www.tapatoro.restaurant .
“You need to work hard and put in the hours before feeling entitled to a leadership position.”
– Wendy Lopez