Updated: Apr 15
Esther-Marie Tidoso, Vienna
Copyright for all pictures: Wynn Florante
Born and raised in the Philippines, Earl Valencia already knew at a very young age that he enjoyed food and wanted to make a career out of it. At 11, he moved from Luzon to Austria where his mother had earlier settled and worked, opening a whole new cultural world for him. Today he is the owner of the Filipino-fusion restaurant “Lolo&Lola” that opened in Vienna, Austria on March 11. The restaurant located in one of the hippest areas in Vienna offers a modern and fresh take on traditional Pinoy cuisine.
Since you moved to Austria when you were 11, how was growing up in Austria for you?
In the beginning it was hard because everything was new. In the beginning I obviously didn’t know anyone, and it was cold. I wasn’t used to the cold and the cuisine here. So, it took time getting used to everything. However, school helped me to learn the language. Language was very important to my mother. She insisted on speaking German at home, so I quickly caught on to the language.
When did you discover your passion for food and cooking?
Pretty early. When I first came to Austria, my parents and I visited a couple of restaurants. I sort of knew then that this is where I belonged. My mother wanted me to become a nurse, but I told her I didn’t want to and that I felt most comfortable in gastronomy. Since my grandparents not only raised me but I also enjoyed eating their food, I wanted to dedicate this restaurant to them. Hence the name ‘Lolo&Lola’.
In Vienna, there used to be a handful of Pinoy restaurants which have disappeared along the way. What motivated you in getting into the restaurant business? Has it always been a dream of yours?
Most of my life I have worked in the restaurant business. And obviously when you’re in that environment you tend to think of opening your own spot. So, yes, you can say it has always been a dream of mine. And that dream manifested itself during my time managing the restaurant ‘Motto Am Fluss’ where I had such a great time, learning and working.
Although COVID caused so many challenges, it also brought about chances. The pandemic is still present, and you cannot do away with it. I thought that I couldn’t just wait for it to end otherwise I’d never start. You've got to be brave despite people thinking that it’s a crazy idea, especially during these times. Despite that, I took my time to think about it and had made up my mind to open my own restaurant.
What’s the concept of your restaurant?
Location-wise I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant in this district in Vienna. This area has such a special flair; the people, the restaurants, the shops have such a small village character that I enjoy. Also, the people who live in this area are great. They are very open-minded, enjoy doing and getting to know new things. And that’s also what I wanted to do with this restaurant. Offering the people in Vienna a spot where they can try new interpretations of Filipino cuisine, hence the fusion element in all our dishes.
There's a mix of people coming and visiting our restaurant. A lot of Filipinos in the beginning but then more and more Europeans have come. It’s great to see everyone in one restaurant. And that has also been my goal to be open to everyone and not only to Filipinos. Young, hip people. Everyone should feel comfortable and welcome here and at the same time get to know the Filipino kitchen.
What do you think makes Filipino food so special?
We have so many exotic ingredients such as coconut, jackfruit and other vegetables that are not really out there. Filipino food has a lot to offer yet it is still very unknown, and I would like to bring these exotic ingredients to the people. It is a challenge though, but its versatility is great to bring forward.
First Generation Pinoys are shocked to have a vegan version of Kare Kare or Bicol Express. Some understand it, some don’t. But we want to have a modern, different approach and interpretation of Pinoy food. Half of our menu provides vegan and vegetarian options, also due to the area. We opted to not serve too much meat even though we know that the Filipino culture loves meat. However, I believe that veganism is the future due to environmental issues and the growing lifestyle of eating little to no meat in Europe. Even for Pinoys who know how these meals taste, they can always find something new.
How important is representation to you? Do you see yourself representing Filipino culture with your restaurant?
Through this restaurant you express Filipino culture and bring them forth through its cuisine. For me, that’s already a message to represent the Filipino culture. I’m not very involved in Filipino community but very much engaged to bring out Filipino culture. My restaurant is only a small contribution to the representation.
What’s your personal message to young and aspiring people who want to establish their own restaurant or business?
Believe in yourself and be courageous. If you have a dream and have goals, then go for it. However, always remember that a journey is more important than reaching the goal. When you have gained experience and gained the knowledge then think about your ideas and figure out what you want. Then take up the courage and just go for it.
What can we expect from Lolo&Lola in the next couple months?
We are currently working on the outdoor area where we want to play with a lot of lights. Our garden is the next highlight which we are going to offer. The vibe is going to be comfortable and very inviting.