How Terry’s stays at the top of the restaurant game
How does a restaurant last 18 years?
Nowadays, restaurants fold in three years, on average. Some close their restaurants only to open a new concept on the same location; others close shop, only to reopen with a similar menu albeit under a different name and updated ambiance.
Terry’s has withstood the test of time, celebrating last Thursday its 18th anniversary. And this has been without gimmicks, without riding on trends.
The Terry’s that you know today has the same touch and feel of the Terry’s you ate at and fell in love with in 1999 or 2004 or 2014.
Elements of success
Juan Carlos de Terry (chef JC), founder and owner of Terry’s along with his wife Mari, sums up the restaurant’s success with these three elements: ambiance, luxury and excitement.
The ambiance of Terry’s evokes that of a classic Spanish restaurant, as you would experience it in Spain, with beautiful tiles, warm light, brick walls and shelves upon shelves of table wine.
Chef JC always goes the extra mile to assure guests of the proper ambiance. If you will notice the piano at Terry’s, it has candle holders displayed on top of it. “That piano is 200 years old,” chef JC revealed, going back to the days without electricity. He had it shipped from Spain when he and wife Mari moved to the Philippines. It was tuned by the piano tuner of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and still works perfectly well, played in the restaurant to this very day.
Another example of how chef JC goes the extra mile for ambiance: For the anniversary celebration, he went as far as importing a laurel tree, which he placed right on the buffet table, to complete the Calle del Laurel experience.
As for luxury, chef JC defines this as “offering something that is unique, something that is not available.”
“For example,” he explains, “when I offer a variety of top quality cheeses from Spain mixed with 10 or 15 cold cuts that are unique and put these together for our guests, I think that is a luxury.”
Terry’s has the advantage in the game of luxury, being an importer of delicacies from Spain. In fact, before the restaurant business, they started out as a deli.
It was only when people started asking the gourmet (He clarifies he did not study to become a chef. He is a chemist and musician but has been cooking all his life) to cook for them that the restaurant was born.
“Being an importer, you have two things,” he notes. “One, you have the option to select your products from its origin and bring it here. At the same time, you also have the opportunity to meet with the people who are passionate about these products from the place of origin itself.”
In spite of great access to a wide array of products, he and his wife Mari remain critical of the items they import. “I issue the passport to enter Terry’s. It is only when we are convinced of the quality of the product and the philosophy of the people behind the product that we import the product,” he says. “Everything that you see in Terry’s has been tried by Mari and by me. That’s why the name ‘Terry’s Selection’—because we select the products.”
Tradition and innovation
The third element that chef JC mentioned is excitement which, he explains, means “offering something new to keep the excitement of people alive.”
He does this by being innovative in the kitchen, even while being true to traditional Spanish flavors. “Terry’s is traditional with its ingredients but innovative in the way that the ingredients are managed,” he says.
For the anniversary, for example, he veered away from the ordinary gambas al ajillo that everyone already knows. Instead, he created an omelet with the gambas al ajillo.
Another example is his unique play on the humble artichoke. He imported excellent artichokes from Rioja specifically for the Calle del Laurel fiesta. He stuffed these with pancetta Iberica and placed it on a sauce of sea urchin caviar. Foie gras, too, was not just served pan fried or as a terrine. Chef JC had the imagination to create a bonbon so the paté is covered in dark chocolate. Then to break the monotony of bitter and savory, the bonbon is laid on a bed of caramelized ragout of piquillo peppers—a truly innovative interpretation using traditional ingredients.
Best of all, these were not recipes that were simply downloaded from Google but designed by the chef himself.
“What I try to do is always create,” he says. “It’s not a copy-paste creation.”
Art and harmony
Instead, he composes based on what he finds in the kitchen. “Cooking is an art but for me, I need to enter the kitchen to find what I will encounter.” And he pursues his creations from there.
A true artist, he also uses this process of creativity to “find himself.”
“It’s like playing the piano,” the chef-musician shares. “Depending on the tune I select, depending on what I play, I find myself. In some way, you are able to dig deeper into yourself by practicing this art.”
Passion and consistency
Aside from the three elements mentioned above, two more have made Terry’s a success: passion and consistency.
“Whether in music or photography or cooking, passion is important,” says the chef. “That is why I never give up and I always try to innovate.”
Finally, Terry’s has not only stayed in the game but at the top of the game because of consistency. It is true that there is no substitute for hard work and chef JC proves this as he admits that he is in the restaurant (or now, as Terry’s has expanded to several branches, in one of his restaurants) every day, including Saturdays and Sundays.
And that is why his passion for “the art of food”—the deli’s tagline—is ingrained in his staff. “If you practice a certain philosophy, it becomes contagious for your people,” he says.
Spain is lucky to have such an ambassador for its cuisine, who is able to communicate the best of Spanish flavors so eloquently.
For the anniversary celebration, chef JC wanted to share with his guests a fond memory from his childhood: visiting Calle del Laurel in Rioja when he was around 5 or 6 years old with his father to visit suppliers for their family brandy company.
“Calle del Laurel is called the Cathedral of Tapas,” he shares. “Every house is a bar and every bar has a specialty, so it’s something unique, the quintessential gastronomic adventure.”
As an homage to Logroño, where you will find Calle del Laurel, the Spanish chef offered over 20 Rioja wines for guests to enjoy and prepared 16 pinchos and tapas, including an excellent “Alejandro” chorizo bathed in Tempranillo Rioja sauce, lamb cutlet in Villeroy cream, pork loin tournedos, mini rolls of ox tongue in olive sauce, and the list goes on.
How lucky is the Philippines for having seen firsthand the artist’s performances? For that, we have to thank Mari, the Filipina who captured his heart in Seville in 1971. (And Mexico, whose dreadful conditions in the 90s forced them to move to the Philippines and open Terry’s in 1999.)
Word is that Terry’s will be opening a branch in BGC soon and there are also murmurs of a possible Terry’s Steakhouse. Personally, I am afraid of expansion as restaurants sometimes lose sight of their true north when they spread themselves too thin. I hope Terry’s Pasong Tamo will continue to flourish in the next 18 years as they have in the past 18 years.
Terry’s Bistro. G/F, BCS Prime Building, Chino Roces Ave Ext. (Pasong Tamo Ext.), Makati. Parking available, but limited. Wheelchair accessible. Major credit cards accepted. Reservations recommended, call landline 729-7906. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more info, visit terryselection.com.
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