Arturo Morales

"Work your way up by earning people’s respect".

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Arturo Morales

Country of Origin: Mexico.

State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Broome, Western Australia. Upon arrival: Surprised by people driving on the other side of the road and how big Australia is

By Trini Abascal

Arturo Morales, chef and owner at Los Amates, is a familiar face for Melbourne festival lovers. As a strong advocate for Mexican food and Latin American culture in Australia, Arturo frequently participates in festivals and generously donates traditional food for cultural celebrations. His passion for Mexican food eventually led him to establish his own restaurant in 2004, earning him recognition in ‘The Age Good Food Guide’.

Tell us Your Story

I arrived in this beautiful country in 1982, in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record. I had just married an Australian girl and we had decided to try our luck in Australia. It was hard not knowing anyone in Melbourne. However, being in love made things easier. By chance, a Mexican lady I met at the Camberwell Market introduced me to all the Mexicans that were in Melbourne at the time (about 10). 

  The restaurant is named ‘Los Amates’ after traditional Mexican popular art. The ‘Amatl’ is a type of paper produced from the fig tree. This type of paper has been used since the pre-Hispanic times to create paintings depicting celebrations.

The restaurant is named ‘Los Amates’ after traditional Mexican popular art. The ‘Amatl’ is a type of paper produced from the fig tree. This type of paper has been used since the pre-Hispanic times to create paintings depicting celebrations.

In Mexico, I worked for the Anderson’s Hospitality group as bartender. I have always enjoyed working in hospitality, so in Australia I tried to find a similar job. I got my first job as a kitchen hand and then as a cook at Tony's Bar & Grill in South Melbourne. I also had the opportunity to learn from great chefs in South Yarra and Windsor.  I feel proud of how I managed to work my way up from kitchen hand to cook and then to head chef.

After 8 years in Melbourne, my wife and I decided to pack up and move to Queensland. We wanted to try out life in ‘the sunshine state’, with the excitement of living by the coast. We thought we would find a better place for our two kids to grow up. However, the Gold Coast was definitely a place for single people and unfortunately, I experienced a level of racism there that I hadn't experienced in Melbourne. This, combined with missing our friends and the footy prompted us to return to Melbourne.

Back in Melbourne, I found a ‘normal hours’ job as a chef at La Trobe University (7 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday). This allowed me to pay for the mortgage and spend more time with the kids (the third baby was on his way). I was determined to become a qualified chef, so I contacted what is now known as the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority. I knew I had vast experience and knowledge in various cooking styles and techniques; therefore, instead of taking additional lessons I was asked to undertake several tests at the Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE. I obtained my qualification as a chef and became the Bistro chef at my workplace, La Trobe's Eagle Bar

After 20 years of marriage, my wife and I separated. I threw myself into my work and I decided to open my own restaurant. Back then, the few restaurants offering ‘Mexican cuisine’ were not actually serving authentic Mexican food. So, my desire was to bring an authentic Mexican experience to Melbourne. This has to be represented by the name and décor, and of course avoiding clichés. I decided to look at my own roots to find a name that represented me. In ‘Los Amates Mexican Kitchen’ I found a name that not only represents our history and culture but also highlights the authenticity of the restaurant. Funny though, as some people think that I misspell the word ‘Los Amantes’ (the lovers).

We have had a good run at the restaurant. After one year of operation we started to receive good public reviews. And, in 2006 and 2007 we were featured in The Age Good Food Guide. I am extremely humbled by all our appearances in magazines and articles. I believe we helped to start the ‘new trend’ of Australians going crazy for Mexican food.

  Tortillas,salsas and delicious mexican dishes from 'Los Amates'.

Tortillas,salsas and delicious mexican dishes from 'Los Amates'.

Challenges

Language- Although I spoke good English, it was very hard to understand the Australian accent. With time you learn to adjust not only to the Australian accent but also to all the other accents in a city as multicultural as Melbourne.

Stereotypes - I found it hard to be accepted as people had a very vague view of Mexico and Mexicans; we were seen as ‘lazy’. I worked hard and proved them wrong.

Family - Forming a family in another country is always difficult, especially if you marry someone from a different background. There can be cultural differences in important matters such as your children’s education, financial matters, and planning for the future. I guess you just have to learn to work together and compromise in order to do what is best for your family.

Starting a business - The biggest challenge for Los Amates was to be accepted and recognised as an authentic Mexican restaurant. People had misconceptions about Mexican cuisine and our culture. Initially I had to cope with a lot of ‘funny comments’. However, once people tried our food they became regulars. In fact, we have many clients who have grown older along with the business.

Contrasts

Easy going - The laid back and approachable personalities of the average Australian made it somewhat easier to adapt to the new way of life. However, I believe that Latin American people are also easy going and adaptable to anything we come across. I was very keen to learn and integrate into the Australian culture.

Love for sports - Because there is a strong soccer culture in Latin America, I found comforting to see that Australians love sports as well. Melbourne is the Australian sports capital due to the major facilities being here, including MCG (cricket), Rod Laver Arena (AUS Open), Albert Park (Formula 1), Etihad stadium (AFL & soccer).

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Piece of Advice

Work hard - Some people move here wanting to work as managers and start from the top; however, they have to prove themselves by working hard. You might need to start in junior roles. Work your way up by earning people’s respect with diligence and determination.

Embrace - It is important to appreciate Australian culture in order to best adapt. For example, you can learn to enjoy the Australian passion for sports, the outdoors, festivals, etc. Remember to treat people nicely and institutions with respect. These will be much appreciated by locals and will only benefit you.

Seek Information - All the information I needed I got from the internet, television and major newspapers (i.e. The Age, ABC, the Herald Sun, and the Daily Telegraph). Try to learn as much about Australia as you possibly can.

In the next few years...

Arturo is planning to continue promoting Mexican culture through his love for food, this time through cooking classes. He is also interested in travelling to Mexico in order to further his knowledge in the history of Mexican cuisine. If you wish to contact Arturo email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com