From childhood dangers to modern setbacks, Chef Eddie has persevered giving Sheffield an authentic but humble Spanish Tapas experience.

Spanish tapas is an appetiser or a snack in Spanish cuisine but can be combined together into a full meal to enjoy.

The globally adored ‘Paella’ is renowned to be the national dish of Spain. Different forms and styles have been created in multiple regions depending on the ingredients they have access to.

When most think of paella ingredients, they think of it being made with seafood – but there are other intriguing variations too. The ‘Valenciano’ uses rabbit and beans- yes, rabbit! Many variations of this beloved rice dish have emerged.

El Toro restaurant, Sheffield

However, these variants do not only exist within the confines of the Iberian Peninsula. Colonisation not only took the Spanish language and salsa overseas to South America, but the cuisine too. Of course, it hasn’t become a direct replica as the people of these countries have adapted and made it their own.  

One person who has had to adjust to this fusion and harmony of multiple cultures is head chef and owner of ‘El Toro’, Eddinson Morales, 45, from Walkley.  

Eddie has been the owner of the restaurant for the past five years, and the business will now be reaching its 15th anniversary of their opening.  

The restaurant, located in Sheffield, greets you with a warm red interior, wooden tables and seats providing an authentic ‘Bar de Tapas’ atmosphere. Spanish instrumentals are playing in the background to bring a comforting vibe for customers. If you refrain from looking at the very British looking high street just out the window – you are teleported to a hispanic heaven.

Offering a plethora of mouth-watering options from traditional spicy Patatas Brava and the staple Tortilla Española to the not so traditional chicken wings with honey, El Toro offers a chance for big groups to get together and eat some authentic and flavoursome food.   

Originally from Colombia, Eddie has grown up being taught culinary skills from his family, specifically his mother. He recalls memories of his mother cooking for the whole family as he took her culinary skills in.

“I have been raised in a family where food was always important. I was always there watching but at some point I was curious and started asking things.”  

Eddie has had an interest in food from an early age, which soon led to him cooking small things for himself. His mother owned a restaurant in Colombia and later in Spain, but the techniques learnt were that of her home cooking.  

Learning from his mother who rarely used flour to thicken up sauces, Eddie discovered that smashing vegetables gives the same consistency. This process forms many tapas that he offers, unintentionally gluten-free, making his food accessible to a larger audience.  

Spanish tapas spread

Once Eddie finished secondary school and a year of military service, a compulsory Colombian custom, he had to come to a decision: 

His mother, now having owned a restaurant in Madrid for 5 years, gave him the choice to either go to university in Colombia or move to Madrid with her. He chose Madrid.  

“I say I move, something new and different.”  

After arriving in Spain, he recognised the differences between the country’s food and lifestyle and that of his home. New friends were the first avenue into trying the traditional cuisine. His initial realisation was that the basic flavours and styles were very similar. 

“All Colombian roots come from Spain.” 

Another experience Eddie had when moving to Spain was a sense of relaxation. He explained when living in Colombia, life was not easy. Although he had a good childhood, he knew that day-to-day life was difficult.  

“Everything was natural, but everything was a challenge. Going to school was difficult because you always need to pay attention to what is happening around you.”  

He explained how when he was a child, even the simple things, such as going to the park to play basketball with friends, were dangerous because of what was happening around him. Families sat in the centre of parks enjoying their days, whilst people in the shadows were dealing and using drugs. Other times muggings or robberies were witnessed. 

Spanish street

He recalled moments where soldiers would be called in to deal with the crime happening with “big guns” where they shouted “Everybody to the floor!” as they stormed into his neighbourhood.  

These events became part of normal life for Eddie. So after moving to Spain, he tended to explore Madrid by himself. Friends would be asking why he would walk through the labelled ‘dangerous’ neighbourhoods.  

“I would be walking through the dangerous streets of Spain but I didn’t know. It seemed normal to me.” 

After spending some time in Spain, making friends, getting a job and being with family, a friend offered him an “adventure”. She asked him if he was interested in learning English and told him that there was a course being offered in Sheffield.  

“This was 14 years ago- I simply couldn’t say no.”

When arriving in Sheffield, Eddie looked for a job and ended up working as a pot washer at El Toro. Both the course and the job allowed him to practice and develop his English. This, as well as his openness to trying new things, made it easy to adapt to the new British lifestyle. 

“I just take it easy. The only thing is the sunshine. I miss the sunshine.” 

Through this job he learned from the previous owner how to become a chef. He explained that thanks to his grandmother and mother, Eddie knew how to cook for his family and small groups. However, being a chef was different. Cooking for a busy restaurant to a high standard with many different dishes to serve proved to be a new challenge.  

El Toro restaurant, Sheffield

This teaching combined with Eddie’s strong connection to Spanish food ended up being a useful exchange.

“He asked me about little things that made the menu better and more authentic, and I learnt from him about how to be a chef. I learnt the whole process.”

Five years after being hired as a pot washer, Eddie bought the restaurant.  

During these years of ownership, Eddie has faced many challenges through Covid and now with the current cost of living crisis. After the pandemic he noticed that his regulars were no longer coming in. 

El Toro restaurant, Sheffield

More notably, there were no longer large groups of people coming to eat, due to fears and restrictions. This had a large effect on his business due to the Spanish tapas culture of ordering a selection of small dishes to share.

“You have the opportunity to offer a lot of different kinds of food and in your meal you can mix them all and share with people. This is the real purpose of tapas.” 

Although the restaurant has been recovering since then, the recuperation has been slow due to the cost-of-living crisis. Being open six days a week is not viable for Eddie and his business, so at some points serving food four days a week was all they could offer, even with extra support.  

“We needed support from the government, otherwise it was impossible to carry on.”  

However, despite new ownership, Eddie said he kept most things the same. Apart from his blended techniques and styles, the tapas offered at the restaurant have remained unchanged.  

Spanish tapas spread

“For people it is traditional food, so it’s something that I really don’t want to change. I just try to improve it.” 

A few years later, he met his partner and had two sons. They are now part of the family business. His partner takes care of the ‘behind the scenes’ in terms of numbers and finances, whilst the little ones try the desserts to give their expert opinion on whether they get their place on the menu.  

Article written by Jamie Oliver-Rocha.