We recently sat down with Paulo, the proud owner of El Bigoton Latin Street Food, located in the heart of The Wharf Mooloolaba.
Paulo’s passion for Latin American cuisine and his commitment to delivering authentic flavours have ensured El Bigoton is a beloved spot for locals and visitors alike. With his extensive knowledge of Latin American culinary traditions and his dedication to creating a vibrant dining experience, Paulo shares his insights and experience since taking over the business, the passion behind the food he serves, and the cultural influences behind the team’s mouthwatering dishes.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I grew up in a small town called Franca, which is 5 hours from Brazil’s Capital, São Paulo. I moved to Maroochydore 3 years ago, and have been living here since.
However, I love the Mooloolaba area, particularly near the Wharf, with the gorgeous beaches and abundance of fantastic restaurants. If I were to move one day, I would love to rent or buy a house in the Mooloolaba area.
I purchased El Bigoton last August, which means I have been the owner for almost a year – wow, time flies! El Bigoton Latin Street Food has been a business for over 7 years, which I think demonstrates the strength and potential of the business – and we are so excited to be part of its story.
Who makes up the team at El Bigoton?
We have an amazing team here at El Bigoton!
Franklin is our General Manager.
Ana, Brandon, Diana, Vinicius, and I make up the team of Chefs.
Maria works front-of-house, and we have our awesome team of juniors; Ben, Devlin and Sunny.
Can you please tell us about your background in Hospitality?
My family has worked in the retail and hospitality industry for years. My mother used to own a retail shop in Franca, and my father owned a small restaurant. I grew up helping my parents across both businesses and I think that kind of exposure from an early age taught me some great skills on how to run and manage a business, from learning about finances, and marketing to great customer service.
When I moved to Australia, I was given my first role as a Chef at a Brazilian restaurant in Brisbane. To this day, I am incredibly grateful to that team for the opportunity; there, I was able to improve my English skills and gain incredible exposure to a high-paced, large-scale restaurant environment. By building my skills in that environment, I began to recognise that I had the potential to open my own restaurant in the future.
I believe in destiny and believe that is what brought me to El Bigoton, where I began working in 2020 and have been in love with it ever since.
What made you take the leap to become the owners of El Bigoton?
When Alex and Ana (the old owners) told me about their intention to sell the restaurant, I knew I had to take that next step and buy the business. I am proudly South American, and we are a culture of people passionate about food and flavour, always being fresh and handmade – so I knew that with dedication and commitment, I could continue on the legacy that Alex and Ana had built with El Bigoton.
I will always be grateful to Alex and Ana for letting me grow as a Chef and pushing me as they saw my talent and passion for food. When I put myself forward to buy the business, they both supported me and believed I could take on this next leap and challenge in my career. I have never looked back.
Who inspired your passion for food?
My father is the person who inspired my passion for food. He isn’t a chef, per se, but I still believe his food is some of the best I have tasted… full of flavour, chilli and herbs. Any chance I can get to cook with my father – I take it, as he inspires me to learn, experimenting with different flavours and unique ways to cook.
What was the first dish you learned how to make? Do you still make this today?
The first dish I learned to cook was Feijoada – a.k.a Brazilian Beef and Pork Stew. Feijoada is native to Brazil and inspired by Brazilian culture. I still love to make it, and it’s even made its way onto the El Bigoton menu. We always make our Feijoada from scratch, ensuring that every patron who tries it is hit with that full, authentic Brazilian flavour.
What is your favourite Latin American dish to make for friends and family?
My favourite Latin American dish is, and always will be, the Brazilian P.F. (Prato Feito) with Picanha (Rump Cap). Fresh rice, beans, salad, vinaigrette and soft fried egg – perfection! If I could only eat one meal for the rest of my life, I’m certain Prato Feito and Picanha would be my pick!
Do you have a personal favourite menu item at El Bigoton?
My favourite dish on our menu is the Chef’s Board (a.k.a La Tabla De Jefe). Either that or the Picanha (Rump Cap). Both dishes are packed with flavour and are popular amongst my family and friends too! If I were to recommend any dish for a guest at El Bigoton to try, it would have to be one out of those two.
What do you think is the perfect drink to pair with this?
I think the perfect match with the Chef’s Board is the Spicy Mango Margarita.
Do you have a favourite cocktail on the menu?
As a good Brazilian, my favourite cocktail always will be Caipirinha, made with fresh lime and a good Cachaça (Sugar Cane Spirit).
Where do you find inspiration for the menu at El Bigoton?
My family is a source of a lot of the inspiration behind our menu at El Bigoton. I also stay tuned in with documentaries and TV shows about food from Latin America.
Is there an item on the El Bigoton menu that you wished people would try more?
For your main meal, I would definitely recommend the Arepas, which are also great as a snack – depending on how hungry you are. Arepa is a traditional meal in many countries across South America, including Columbia and Venezuela. It is made with traditional corn flour, so a great option for patrons who are gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan.
I have to credit one of my best friends, who is Venezuelan, for introducing me to Arepas. She cooked it for me, and it was love at first bite. Now, every time she comes to visit me, I always ask her to cook it for us.
Does food help you stay connected with your roots? Family, community, culture?
Yes, food is the one reminder to me of my roots, my home and my family. It definitely brings back a lot of fond memories.
How have Latin American traditions helped shape the culture of hospitality?
Latin America; our history, traditions, culture and food has had a large impact on the hospitality industry. Coriander, chillies, food that’s full of flavour and colour! We see its influence everywhere. We love showing this and continuing this legacy to the people of Australia – and they seem to love it and always want more! If you can, you must try Latin American desserts – a lesser-known part of our cuisine, but I believe they are some of the best in the world.
What do you love about operating out of The Wharf Mooloolaba?
The Wharf has been at the heart of El Bigoton and part of its story since the beginning when we were just a simple Mexican canteen. The team here have always encouraged us to grow and given us the opportunity to make a difference. It’s a beautiful place to work, you can’t look past the river view that offers a great dining experience to our guests and visitors of The Wharf Mooloolaba.
What are your best tips for people visiting the area?
I would, of course, recommend that you visit us first!
We are surrounded by picturesque views of the river, and if you like adventure – the Wharf has some incredible activities. If you are more of a relaxed person, we are just a walking distance away from the beach, so you can enjoy a beautiful day with family and friends and end it here at the wharf by enjoying an amazing lunch or dinner.
What’s next for the team at El Bigoton?
We’re really happy to be part of this family at The Wharf Mooloolaba, we want to give more to the locals and tourists who visit the precinct and continue giving an incredible experience through our food and drinks. We want to keep offering the Sunshine Coast community an opportunity to experience a bit of Latin life.