Chef’s Table at Epicuro Culinary Center is a Puerto Rico food experience worth planning your trip to San Juan around.
If you’re planning a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, you’ll want to put the newly-opened Epicuro Culinary Center on your list of things to do. This luxe yet still approachable Puerto Rico food experience is so uniquely delicious that you might be tempted to plan a trip to Puerto Rico just to get a seat at the chef’s table.
What is the Epicuro Culinary Center Puerto Rico Food Experience?
The Epicuro Culinary Center is a chef’s table, cooking school, and event venue. While it’s not exactly a restaurant, it’s my top pick of places to get a great dinner in San Juan. The Chef’s Table was the foodie highlight of my visit to Puerto Rico, and that’s saying a lot. There’s a lot to love about Puerto Rico, but the culinary scene tops my list.
The center offers a chef’s table experience and hands-on cooking classes. The casually elegant space can also be rented out for special events.
Getting to the Epicuro Culinary Center
I stayed in the Isla Verde section of San Juan on my recent trip to San Juan. Isla Verde is less than 10 minutes from the airport. Many of the island’s high-end beachfront resorts and hotels are located here. The Epicuro Culinary Center is located in the Santurce neighborhood. Santurce is experiencing a revival and has lots of new restaurants and cafes popping up. Santurce is an easy four-mile drive from Isla Verde. If you didn’t rent a car at the airport, you can grab a cab or ride with Uber. The address is 316 Avenida José de Diego, San Juan.
The Chef’s Table
I thought the Chef’s Table was the ultimate Puerto Rican Food experience and one I’d put high on my list when I make a return trip to San Juan. This intimate experience will take you on a culinary journey that reflects Chef Antonio Pérez’s world travels and experience in kitchens across several continents. The food is uniquely Puerto Rican and locally sourced with an international flair. There are 12 seats situated around an open kitchen. Those who book the chef’s table have a front-row seat to the action. The space is warm and inviting with clean, upscale vibes.
Chef Pérez works (and playfully banters) with his wife, Sarah. They work with a flow and synchronicity that makes it all look easy. Most importantly, they’re having fun and enjoying each other and what they’re doing. This draws the guests in and creates a welcoming experience that makes guests feel like they’re cozied up to the counter in a friend’s really well-appointed kitchen.
Five Small Courses, A+ Presentation
The experience lasts around two hours and includes five small courses. Wine pairings are optional and an additional charge. Although guests won’t be doing the cooking, you’re seated close enough to the action to be able to pick up some tricks and tips. The chef and his assistant chat with the guests throughout their meal prep. There are plenty of opportunities to ask questions. They’re more than happy to share their culinary insight, and I experienced no “I can’t tell you that— that’s our secret recipe.” It was exactly like watching a friend cook.
The courses are small and beautifully presented. I was comfortably full at the end of the Chef’s table experience but not overfull. It was just right. These bespoke dishes are crafted and plated with a creative combination of flavors and textures. Although a lot is happening, the result is exquisite and not busy or overwhelming.
Wines and liqueurs are sourced worldwide, although I recommend capping off your meal with the Puerto Rican-made Cacao Elixir. The taste is similar to Bailey’s Irish Cream, but the Cacao Elixir is not cream-based.
Locally Sourced, Chef-Driven
What’s on the menu at the Chef’s Table Experience? “That depends on what is knocking at my door,” says Chef Pérez. The ingredients that go into dinner are fresh and locally sourced. The menus are crafted weekly and sometimes every three days. Perez selects the freshest, in-season produce and proteins and crafts menus based on what’s available and what he knows how to do.
The phrases “farm to table” and “locally sourced” are commonplace in restaurants. However, if you ask the chefs and staff at the Epicuro Culinary Center where your dinner ingredients came from, they’ll be able to tell you how they came to have baby scallops and papaya that particular week or share that the produce vendor had a lot of chard, so that’s why you’re seeing it on your plate. It’s great to support the farm-to-table initiative, but take it further and challenge yourself to understand what that means. If chefs tout their establishments as farm-to-table, they can tell you a food story. Chef Pérez did not disappoint in this area, and he chatted easily throughout the two-hour experience and gave me a solid grasp of my food’s origin.
Check out the center’s classes if you want a Puerto Rican food experience that involves making your own dinner. Unlike the Chef’s Table experience, the cooking classes at Epicuro Culinary Center are hands-on. Think of it like this, the Chef’s Table is where you watch your talented friend cook a meal you get to eat. The cooking classes are where your talented friend works alongside you, and you both cook a meal you get to eat. Different experiences, but you’re winning either way. Allow three hours for classes.
I don’t throw out the word “friend” loosely. You really will feel a friendship with Pérez and his staff. When you leave, it will seem like you’re saying “See you later” to good friends.
Vegetarian Options and Accommodating Dietary Restrictions
While the Epicuro Culinary Center can accommodate most dietary restrictions, advance notice is imperative due to the small space and the venue’s reliance on fresh produce and proteins. Chef Pérez explained that most dishes could be easily adapted to vegetarians but need a head’s up to give guests the best experience. If there’s something you can’t eat, make that known when you book.
Cruise Passengers Welcome to Experience the Puerto Rico Food Experience
If you’re on a cruise that stops in San Juan for the day, consider skipping the cruise line’s excursion and sign up for a cooking class. Book the “Flavors of Puerto Rico” class and learn about Caribbean cuisine and the different ingredients on the island. An appetizer will be waiting for you, and then you will prepare and enjoy lunch alongside your instructor. “When you finish our special menu,” says Pérez, “you can consider yourself an expert on Puerto Rican cuisine.” The class can be adjusted based on when your cruise ship arrives in San Juan. The latest you could begin this three-hour class is noon.
About the Chef
Chef Antonio Pérez is Puerto Rican born and trained in hotels throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. He defines his style of cuisine as a “culinary journey through more than two decades away from Puerto Rico.” He’s taken the best of cuisines from around the world and merged them with San Juan-sourced food for something fresh, unique, international, and uniquely Puerto Rican at the same time.
Chef Pérez is a published author and a member of the Disciples of Escoffier International Chaine de Rotisseurs, Chefs de Sudamerica, and a Prestige Winner for the Gourmand Cookbook Awards. His favorite cooking method is braising.
“I think braising is the equivalent of happiness. I also like pastry dishes like crepes, souffle, gateau, and custards. These are my weakness. In other words, I am a savory-sweet cook!” His favorite food to eat? Chef Pérez keeps it simple: eggs. He enjoys a fluffy, perfect omelet and a genoise almond cake.
Chef Pérez works alongside his wife and business partner, Sarah, originally from The Netherlands. “We met in a hotel kitchen 20 years ago, and we’ve been inseparable ever since then.”
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Plan Your Own Puerto Rico Food Experience
Book your Chef’s Table experience at the Epicuro Culinary Center online through open table. The meal is $119 per person. Recommended wine pairings are an additional charge. Aim to be on time, or even a little early, for your Chef’s Table experience, especially if you’re driving yourself and need to find parking. There’s a 10-minute grace period for late guests. When planning your next trip to an island in the Caribbean or another foodie destination, let Wander With Wonder be your guide.