On a Friday evening in downtown Sarasota around 2009 or 2010, Fatima Soriano, from Spain’s Canary Islands, stood outside a shop owned by her friend. She asked passersby if they’d like to sample a bit of tortilla, also known as a Spanish omelet. “No one had ever heard of it,” Soriano says, reflecting on the early days of promoting her company, Tapas & Fun Catering. “When I moved to the States in 2004, I realized that Spain was starting to become popular, with tapas and cooking. When I moved to Sarasota, I found that there wasn’t anything Spanish here, and I wanted to teach the Americans, to let them know what authentic food from Spain is.”  The youngest of 12 children growing up in Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Soriano was always enlisted by her family to help with food. From a young age, she developed an interest in cooking and fell in love with the rhythm of the kitchen. At around age seven or eight, she cooked potage—a stew and Canary Islands staple—for her eldest sister, a newlywed who couldn’t cook. Her love of the culinary arts and hosting grew, and she remembers throwing dinner parties for her friends at her house, with drinks, a delicious meal and dessert. “I always liked to set a beautiful table because, I think, when you eat, you have to enjoy that part of it,” she says. “I invited maybe 12 or 14 friends, they sat at the table and I cooked everything. I don’t remember how many times I did that.”

Even in Sarasota, Soriano carried on cooking. “I had a friend who told me, ‘Oh my God! I have to go to your home and you have to teach me because you are always cooking and I’d like to cook’,” she adds. Inspired by her friend’s enthusiasm, Soriano realized that classes could introduce the city to authentic Spanish cuisine. She started Tapas & Fun Catering, in which she taught cooking and catered paella, one of Spain’s most iconic dishes. She did everything she could to spread the word, from making a large magnet for her car that advertised the business to teaching at establishments like Casa Italia and The Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium. She also conducted classes in people’s homes and community centers. She remembers one class of about 10 participants, when people broke out into stations, joking while they cooked as Spanish music played in the background. Soriano’s classes turned out to be a learning opportunity for her as well as her students. 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

“I cook by eye, taste and heart,” Soriano says. Learning to cook in Spain, she relied on her senses, rather than measurements, to guide her. “Here, everybody cooks with specific measurements, and honestly, I don’t cook like that. In the classes, they asked me, ‘How many teaspoons?’ and I thought, ‘How do I answer that?’” The transition from the metric system in Spain to the ever-confusing imperial system in the United States created another challenge. “I remember buying too many things because a pound for me was a kilo, and confusing them both,” she adds.  As Soriano began adding to her menu, offering tapas and desserts in addition to paella, she focused more on catering and less on classes. Depending on what people liked, she tweaked the menu. In March 2020, a week before the COVID lockdowns, she posted her first cooking video on her YouTube channel, Fatima’s Spanish Kitchen—a project that carried her through the pandemic. 

Last September, Soriano opened Taste of Spain by Tapas & Fun Catering in Gulf Gate. In this brick-and-mortar establishment, Soriano’s knack for creating a memorable experience shines. Like its owner, the space is bright and cheery and reflects the wonders of Spain —from the patterned tile floor to illustrated posters of animated flamenco dancers and Tenerife. Taste of Spain is equal parts grab-and-go eatery, gourmet market and one-stop shop for Spanish staples. Patrons can pick up a to-go meal like paella and gazpacho, and shop for their next special event. The shop carries items like Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, crunchy breadsticks called pico, Spanish olives, and other items that are near and dear to Soriano’s heart.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

One of Taste of Spain’s bestsellers is the addictive almogrote, a spicy and peppery garlic and cheese spread from the Canary Islands. Another popular dish is the chocolate mousse, a 165-year-old recipe that one of Soriano’s ancestors discovered in Paris, France in the late 1800s. Her ancestor brought the recipe back to the Canary Islands and it has remained in her family’s hands ever since. Lucky guests will be able to enjoy the mousse, as well as Soriano’s warm hospitality, when they stop by Taste of Spain.  The shop has become a community, where people who were born in Spain, have traveled there or have an affinity for the country can appreciate its food and culture. Soriano has even printed out a list, which she’ll soon have to add to, of her favorite Spanish movies on Netflix for anyone eager to practice their language skills. This past winter, she started hosting cooking and flamenco classes in the space. She welcomes everyone to the shop as if they were guests in her home, guiding them on how to cook or throw a tapas party. “Spanish food is very simple and, at the same time, very tasty,” she adds. “My goal is to let Sarasota and the surrounding areas know what Spain is, and that here there is a little corner of Spain—including the owner.” 

Yes, the same owner who once stood outside a shop in downtown Sarasota, hoping someone would try her tortilla. For those who missed out then, don’t worry, there’s plenty more at Taste of Spain.