Frank Torres

"You will fall over and over again, but you must find the strength to get up"

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Frank Torres

Country of origin: Colombia.

Occupation: Chef, barista and café owner. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Tasmania. Biggest surprise when arriving to Australia: the crazy weather and day light savings

By Trini Abascal

Frank Torres is a successful Colombian Chef, barista and entrepreneur. He was the pioneer of Colombian food in Melbourne. Some of his successful business include “Margaritas Mexican restaurant”, “El Dorado Restaurant” and “El Dorado Catering Business”. Recently, he opened “El Tucan café" in Maribyrnong where he tries to inspire people to have a healthier diet while being conscious about the source of their food. He has volunteered at different community events and was recognised by his volunteer labor during the 2009 black Saturday bush fires.

Contributions to Victoria

  • Raised awareness of Latin American cuisine by opening the first Colombian restaurant.

  • Changed the stereotypes of a country stigmatized by the drug problem by showing that Colombia is not just about drugs.

  • Being recognized for volunteering at one of Victoria’s darkest days at the 2009 black Saturday bush fires by cooking for thousands of fireman and volunteers.

  • Started a free barista course out of Salt Water Community Centre and children cooking lessons at the Tarneit community Centre.

Tell us your story

  Frank catering at several events with his business “El Dorado”

Frank catering at several events with his business “El Dorado”

My mum was worried about my future as a young man growing in Colombia as rumors of young people getting involved in the drug trade at a very young age were becoming quite frequent. This was enough reason for her to sell everything and take us to Australia for a better future. My brother Carlos and his wife Magdalena were already in Australia so they sponsored us. We arrived on the 27th of November 1988. After high school, I studied hospitality and tourism at Holmesglen Institute of TAFE and did my chef apprenticeship at Chisholm Institute in Dandenong, Victoria. During my studies and early hospitality jobs my first daughter Ebony (now 23) was born, her mother Jeannine and I eventually separated to become great friends, and now Jeannine is a great supporter of what I do.

In 1998 I took a job at “Margaritas Mexican restaurant” in Lilydale as head chef. My boss back-then Ian Vizcay-Willson decided to move to Queensland and placed his restaurant for sale for six months or otherwise close it. Six months later (and with the financial help of my mother) I took over the business. Somehow I managed to bring life to this little Mexican gem and before I knew it, it became the new spice in town with an exciting new menu, live jazz every Friday and Uruguayan harp live on Thursdays. We were rolling in the bookings. In 2001 I was made an offer to sell the business to Taco Bill with an offer I couldn’t refuse. So, I sold it. I was young so I decided to travel back to Colombia for a gastronomical holiday. After I returned to Australia I had a burning desire to start the first Colombian restaurant in Melbourne. Thanks to the support of my brother Carlos and my mum’s recipes my dream came true and I opened “El Dorado Grill” in 2005 in the darkest corner of Flinders Street on the ground level of the “all nations backpacker hostel”. This little space went off too and we rocked the pants of Flinders St bringing traditional Colombian street food to the table and busting Latin tunes in the tinniest dance floor in Australia (as described by Master chef judge Matt Preston on his “The Age Epicure Review” on august 1st 2006).

It was here where also my Television experience began. After being interviewed by channel’s 31 show FUSION LATINA I was offered the opportunity to do a short cooking segment to which eventually I became the resident chef for the program. One year later I was asked to be one of the presenters of the show and we began interviewing a variety of celebrities’ restaurants and anything related to the Latin-American community. After three years of hard work and a real good time, El Dorado closed its doors as the building where it was located was sold and the lease was no longer available. Not long before the closure of El Dorado I met Lili Tetay (a beautiful Colombian physiotherapist who came to Australia to study English). She fell in love with my food and we got married in 2008, we now have 2 beautiful children (Gabriela 6 and Mateo 5). They are my reasons to keep going.

After closing the doors of my beloved restaurant I continued with the brand of El Dorado as a catering company and mobile coffee baristas specializing in corporate jobs. We have catered at Latin American celebrity concerts such as Aterciopelados, Fonseca, Willi Colon, and Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya. I have also catered for Australian celebrities like actor Erick Banner and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. I’ve catered major events including the Australian Grand Prix, the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, Carols by Candlelight light and many festivals around town.  I have always loved working with the community so last year I started a free barista course out of Salt Water Community Centre in Point Cook where I offer free barista classes as well as children cooking lessons at the Tarneit community Centre. As I have recently opened El Tucan café in Maribyrnong I am focusing all my energy there and have left the catering business on the side for a while. 

Challenges

Adaptation – Learning a new language was not easy but I adapted quite well. As a young immigrant arriving at the age of 15 it was actually very exciting and I had the support from my brother Carlos, so after a few lessons at the local language centre I was thrown strait into high school. I was fine after the first year but it was the food that I missed the most.

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Frank joined the thousand of volunteers after the black Saturday fires in Victoria (2009)

Starting a business - As a young adult at 24, learning the ropes of how to run a business it was a real challenge. I had no idea about Australian legalities and responsibilities with the tax department, etc. I never did any business courses so a lot of my learning was through trial and error.

Contrasts

Diversity - The main contrast I found between Australia and Colombia is the mix of people from diverse cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs. In Colombia, most of the time, you only learn about your own culture. I love that in Australia I am constantly discovering amazing cultures and of course learning about different type of food. I’ve met people from countries I didn’t even know existed!

 

  Frank with his family

Frank with his family

Piece of advice

Don’t lose your passion - Never lose the passion for what you love. You will fall over and over again but you must find the strength to get up; dust your knees and keep going towards that dream. Thank God for every opportunity and work hard, very hard!  

Give back to the community -  I strongly believe in lending people a hand and creating opportunities to those looking for a chance to do something different in life. I'm humbled to have been recognized for volunteering my time after the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.

In the Next few years...

Frank sees himself continue running his cafes at the local swimming centers and bringing healthy food to the community. He would also like to keep working with community sporting venues teaching healthy eating habits. He would like to start his my own single origin Colombian coffee brand from his sister’s farm (in Colombia) and start a coffee roasting business here. Finally, he has plans to start a cooking show based on Latin American food adventures. If you wish to contact Frank email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com