Restaurants / Openings

Foodie Dream Team Restaurant Becomes an Austin Sensation: Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole’s Love Child Makes Fusion Cool Again — Inside Loro

BY // 04.15.18

Talk about a dream team. When word of barbecue king Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole (of Uchi and Uchiko fame) combining on a new Austin restaurant dubbed Loro first filtered out, foodies and fans of fusion rejoiced.

Gone are the days of mediocre fusion food, aka any new American joint throwing sesame oil on a chicken breast and calling it “Asian-style chicken.” Instead, Franklin and Cole’s just opened restaurant explores the flavors of Southeast Asia with vegetable heavy dishes, carefully crafted cocktails, and of course, Franklin on smoked meats.

Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole have known each other for many years, both running in the same famed food circle in Austin. Franklin gained celebrity status with Franklin Barbecue and Cole made a name for himself with Uchi and Uchiko, which has won countless awards and even earned him a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2011.

A few years ago, the idea of an Asian smokehouse began ruminating with Cole and his team.

“We realized pretty quickly that if we were going to be successful with the concept, we needed to find someone that’s at the top of their game, like a pit master, because it’s a world we don’t know how to do”, Tyson tells PaperCity.

A lunch with Franklin just fleshing out Loro’s concept brought struck a chord with the barbecue wizard but, “It wasn’t until recently that we started talking about having Aaron to come work with us,” Cole notes.

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Cole then approached Franklin for a partner position, which he accepted. While Cole’s culinary background is impressive, starting off as a dishwasher at a sushi restaurant in Austin and working his way up through the ranks to sushi master, even teaching himself Japanese in order to better understand his craft, his modesty is still abundantly clear.

He’s proven to be a master at opening new restaurants; first Uchi in Austin in 2003, Uchiko in 2010, Uchi in Houston in 2012, and Uchi Dallas in 2015 — with a planned Uchi expansion to Denver later this year. But he largely deflects any credit.

“At the end of the day, the most important part is the people themselves, and we wouldn’t be opening more restaurants if it weren’t for our staff, and the talent that we have,” Cole says. “Making sure that we’re very fine tuned, on top of things, and very persistent on excellence and making perfect bites is what we do and our team is all about that.

“We would never have opened that if it weren’t for the people, so it’s quite a blessing. It’s been amazing, watching such vicarious success and seeing all these people’s lives grow and learn and become the people and chefs that they’re going to be.”

With Franklin reaching celebrity-level status as a barbecue god the past few years and the barbecue community’s reputation for being judgmental and hard to please, Cole admits that push back from the barbecue community was on the long list of concerns before Loro opened, which he hopes is assuaged by partnering with Franklin.

“We kind of authenticated what we’re doing by [partnering with Aaron], so I hope they’ll embrace it instead of pushing back, to be honest,” says Cole, “It’s quite a departure, some people will dislike it because it’s not typical barbecue, but we hope that they’ll at least try it and see what they think.”

When asked if he thought the word “fusion” was becoming less of a bad word like it was even just a few years ago, Cole agreed.

“Absolutely, that was a terrible word to hear back in the day, and honestly, I hated it because it made you feel like you were doing something that was completely wrong and almost illegal, like a scarlet letter of some sorts,” he says. “Today, in 2018, there are very few restaurants that don’t have some kind of fusion”.

Cole attributes this to the abundance of resources that the Internet and social media bring, saying “People get inspired by information they find, especially chefs, who think we should this, we should try that, so it becomes fused, which I think is pretty quintessential American”.

It’s clear that Loro would be a success on paper with its two famed names behind it, but where Loro really surprises is its inviting space, mixing the modernity of Uchi with a Hill Country dance hall feel. This is made possible by Vancouver architects and Austin architect Michael Hsu. The space was designed to be very unpretentious, as Cole told me, and a Texas dance hall feel seemed like the right space to eat this type of food in.

The space at 2115 South Lamar Boulevard is quintessential Austin, with a huge patio where Cole hopes Austinites will drink Loro’s sake slushies like they’re frozen margaritas. Loro is a new venture not only for Franklin, but for Cole, whose restaurants serve up mostly Japanese fare.

“I wanted a departure from what we were doing and new flavors that were still based on the idea of making perfect bites but using various components and flavor profiles in our food,” the chef says. “My food is very clean, light, and acidic, sometimes spicy, lots of textures, and that whole part of the world seemed to fit so well into that model and over time, we talked about the idea of a smokehouse or doing meats instead of fish, it just kind of came together in that direction.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the delicious score, you know?”

Franklin Barbecue Clout

Franklin brought his own touch — and the kind of clout that makes Barack Obama visit a barbecue restaurant — to the project.

“I started off wanting to do a lot of different things, and while the finishing techniques are really different, but the more we got into it, we kept leaning towards doing the prep cook exactly like we do at Franklin Barbecue,” says Franklin. “Turns out, I might have figured that out over the past eight years.”

The respect between Franklin and Cole is mutual. Of Franklin, Cole says, “Partnering with Franklin, I would never have dreamed that be possible, it elevates Loro to such a high level. I knew he was talented before, but now working side-by-side with him, I’m thinking we need to clone him”.

“If I was ever going to partner with anyone, it would be the Uchi guys,” Franklin says.

Some of Loro’s most enticing dishes include candied kettle corn, with togarashi, sea salt, and brisket burnt ends, oak-grilled snap peas with sriracha powder and a kimchi emulsion. Crunchy sweet corn fritters are also a favorite, described as a crunchy and light corn cloud, with Thai herbs, galangal powder, Thai chili, lime juice and fish sauce.

Delightful rice bowls, made with coconut rice, seasonal pickles, and choice of Szechuan tofu, Malaysian chicken, and Char Slew pork shoulder dot the lunch and dinner menu, as do creative sandwiches. The real star of the show is the dinner smoked beef brisket, intertwining Franklin and Cole’s expertise, marinated with Vietnamese nuoc mam, a fish sauce for dipping, a Thai chili gastrique, and finished with herbs and chili oil.

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2115 South Lamar Boulevard

Hours: Sundays through Thursdays, 11 am to 10 pm

Fridays and Saturdays, 11 am to 11 pm

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