Daniel Negreira Bercero, the owner of El Toro in the Xinyi District, never intended to become a professional chef. The Spaniard helped his grandmother in the kitchen as a young boy, but had his heart set on a degree in ocean science.
When it came time to take his university entrance exams, however, he missed the cutoff by one-tenth of a point. One of his friends comforted him by suggesting a six-month cooking program. Barcero decided he had nothing to lose — and ended up studying the culinary arts for five years.
“Cooking is not a job for me,” says Bercero. “It’s a passion. I just cook for the sake of cooking. When I arrive every day in the morning, I’m happy about coming to work.”
Bercero may not have gone on an ocean voyage, but his culinary journey has taken him from Spain to Taiwan — and he still gets to play with science on a daily basis. Since opening in April 2008, El Toro has been one of the first — if not the first — restaurants in Taipei to offer food made using molecular gastronomy techniques.
Molecular gastronomy involves breaking food down into its individual components and then recombining them to make different flavors and textures. El Toro’s take on Irish coffee captures the concept: it features paper-thin ravioli made from coffee and flavored with liquor, stuffed with fresh whipped cream and topped with “caviar” made out of whiskey. Chefs also use equipment more often found in laboratories, including machines that can heat to very precise temperatures or centrifugal separators, which are used to remove solids from liquids.
“A chef in Europe is now considered a science master. What we are doing is chemistry, so the equipment we use is very advanced. The machines, the products, the technique is so concrete,” says Bercero.
Dishes made using molecular gastronomy techniques are left off of El Toro’s printed menu because they vary according to the availability of ingredients. Dishes offered at the restaurant change on a weekly basis;
Bercero asks that diners call ahead if they want a specific item.
Address: 508-2, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 5, Taipei City (台北市忠孝東路五段508-2號)
Telephone: (02) 2726-4902
Open: Noon to 2pm and 6pm to 9pm (closed on Monday nights)
Details: Credit cards accepted
On the Net: www.wretch.cc/blog/eltorotw for updates on El Toro’s menu and Bercero’s latest projects
Bercero decided to leave Spain for Taiwan after his Taiwanese wife became pregnant. While looking for job opportunities, Bercero, who had just left a job as executive chef at a five-star luxury hotel in Spain, scoped out the dining scene in Taipei and decided he had something new to offer.
“We checked the market and I saw that for the things I used to do, the hole in the market here is so big, so I thought, ‘why not?’” says Bercero.
To introduce Taiwanese diners to his twist on Spanish food, Bercero started with basic dishes before gradually introducing more complicated items to the menu. El Toro’s printed menu still lists modern Spanish dishes instead of food that utilizes molecular gastronomy; Bercero prefers that diners who want to sample the cooking method talk to him so he can customize courses based on what ingredients (many of which El Toro imports from Spain or France) are available. He focuses on tapas, or small dishes, to acquaint diners with Spanish cuisine and his cooking techniques.
“They are curious, so instead of serving them a huge portion of meat, I think the best way to satisfy that is to serve them a little bit of different things from different regions in order to introduce more variety,” says Bercero.
Bercero got his first taste of molecular gastronomy when he studied with Spanish chef Alvaro Sola. His technique was refined by stints at restaurants renowned for their innovations in the genre, including the three Michelin-starred El Bulli, currently Restaurant magazine’s best restaurant in the world.