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Terry’s Bistro: The Delectable Flavors of Change

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With the political scenario shifting faster than a hurricane in full charge, the oft-repeated catchphrase of the day is “Change is coming.” For Señor Juan Carlos de Terry, change can be a good thing. After all, shifting circumstances in his life—whether personal or political—have been the transformative forces that elevated his art and his enjoyment of life.

Before making a life in Manila, De Terry and his Filipina wife were living in Mexico and running their own import business. In the beginning, life in Mexico was peaceful and business was going briskly. Soon, however, the country’s economy and security became very unstable.

“It was horrible. It became hard to live there,” recalls De Terry. “A group of men stole my trucks and delivery van. One time, when my wife got money from the bank, some people followed her, put a rifle to her head, and stole the money. It got to a point when it became impossible to live there so we decided to move elsewhere.”

It was during the time of Pres. Ramos when the Philippine economy was on the upswing. The peace and order situation was stable and people had a positive vibe. More than that, says, De Terry, “It’s a country that adores Spain and European food. And Filipinos are very kind and generous. I know of no other people that would give strangers more than what they have. So we decided to move here and started all over again by putting up a store.”

Today, nearly two decades after he opened Gourmet & Wine Experts, Inc., an import and distribution company that supplies luxury food, wine and cooking brands, De Terry is enjoying the acclaim and loyalty of many Filipino and foreign food lovers. Terry’s Bistro, the upshot of his initial venture, is now being hailed as one of the top 20 restaurants in the Philippines. Likewise, Señor De Terry has been recognized by the Spanish king himself for his effort in propagating Spanish culture—particularly its cuisine and wines—in the Philippines.

More Than a Mouthful of Fun and Flavors

While his culinary offerings have been celebrated time and again for their authentic flavors, De Terry says that it’s the passion to serve a sense of fun and treating the integrity of ingredients with the highest respect that make his restaurants distinctive.

“I want to bring a spoonful of culture to the mouths of the people who come here. At Terry’s, the diner learns and tastes the authentic ingredients of Spain. I don’t believe in tricks, or shortcuts. You have to stay true to your promise,” he stresses.

This cooking mantra is evident in his passion for using ingredients that come all the way from their places of origin. Among others, he uses squid ink that comes all the way from San Sebastian in his Black Paella, cooking the hearty Valencia in squid ink, seafood and vegetable broth. The toppings of shrimps, squid rings and clams lend a refreshing flavor of the sea.

To create the lively flavors of real Fabada Asturiana, the well-loved Spanish bean casserole, De Terry uses real smoked chorizo and morcilla from Asturias, and Jamón Serrano. This he seasons with Spanish saffron to add spice and color.

His version of Cocido Madrileño is a symphony of luxurious flavors made from chorizo and morcilla Ibérico-bellota, beef shank, pork belly, chicken, Andalusian chickpeas and fresh vegetables that have been perfectly simmered.

Servings of History

While most diners simply dismiss what’s on their plate as the product of the chef’s skill, De Terry says that food is also a great history teacher. As a restaurateur, he values the importance of food history and age-old cooking traditions to be able to capture the desired flavors. Thus, when he talks about food, he does so with great flourish and passion.

He says, “Most Filipinos know that most of their famous dishes have very important Spanish influence. But they rarely know the exact details. For example, here, you have sans rival which was inspired by the Spanish tarte imperial, or imperial torte. Its basic ingredients are cognac and almonds. Here, sans rival is based on rum and cashew nuts. It’s a version of the classic, but the essence is there; the concept is there.”

Thus, for the Galician Pulpo Specialty, he bathes the pulpo slices—octopus, that is—with La Catedral® premium olive oil and Pimentón de La Vera. As in the old Galician tradition of cooking octopus, he enhances the marine flavor with rock salt.

Terry’s Pumpkin Soup recreates the 16th century recipe of the Spanish Clarissian nuns of blending roasted pumpkin and saffron cream to achieve the intriguing blend of fruity, smoky and spicy flavors.

For his own Tawilis Adobados, De Terry uses tawilis from Taal Lake and marinates them in the traditional fish adobo from Cádiz. He then deep fries them in extra virgin olive oil.

“Adobo,” he reminds us, “is a Spanish cooking technique, and not a dish as it is here. In Spain, we cook meat in vinegar as a way to preserve the meat, and we call the technique ‘adobo.’ Back there, we use sherry vinegar, here you use vinegar from coconut wine, or tuba.”

And for Terry’s famous Cochinillo, a three-week suckling pig is used to ensure the tender texture and the milky flavor of the meat. This is cooked slowly with De Terry’s own secret stuffing.

The Value of Excitement

While De Terry pays strict homage to the authenticity of ingredients and flavors, he also sees the need to create newer flavors. He believes that this creative inspiration to transform and re-invent classic flavors ensures the constant evolution of the culture of cooking and dining. Years ago, when he was invited to dinner to mark the graduation of Culinary Arts students, he admonished them with one thing only: “Go to Spain. Learn the history and learn the food. Learn how food is cooked. Then, with experience, you can recreate and invent.”

This spirit of daring and innovation hits diners upon walking inside Terry’s Bistro. Here, the walls are decorated by posters from the turn of the century selling everything from wine and sausages to sewing machines. These add color and sense of fun to the ambience. On a wall are wine cradles nestling premium bottles from Spain and other parts of the world.

“Having a great respect for authenticity does not mean you have to be less creative. I enjoy creating new dishes inspired by classic flavors,” he clarifies. When he first came to the Philippines in 1972, De Terry says he tasted many new things. “Everybody wanted to please me, so they offered me to try new dishes. One of the dishes I really liked was the dinuguan.”

Inspired by the dinuguan, he created his own Dinuguan Risotto, which uses Spanish rice and Spanish chili on top. “It’s something authentic managed in a different way. I am loyal to the Spanish ingredients, but I do creations, I invent new things,” he says.

He also created chicken stuffed with béchamel sauce made from Philippine spinach. This is breaded and fried, and served with a side dish of Patatas Manchegos—fried thickly-sliced potatoes topped with manchego cheese.

This has brought about the patronage of even young customers who find the flavors of Terry’s Bistro fun and fresh. “I have a lot of kids who come here to Terry’s. There’s this girl who had her first birthday party here at Terry’s when she was four. And she’s been celebrating her birthdays at Terry’s for eight consecutive years now. Terry’s is not about age; it’s more about sharing food and the experience in a relaxed ambience. The images here are fun. There is culture here in the ambience.”

Café Madrid: A Nod to the Future

The Spanish capital of Madrid has always been known for its brio—the spirit of audacity and impudence—as reflected in the flamenco, in the bullfights, in its passionate songs and poetry. Now, De Terry, a native of Cadiz hopes to bring the electricity of the city when he opens Café Madrid.

Envisioned to be a casual and charming dining destination when it is finished, Cafe Madrid will recreate the enduring symbols and colors of Spain in more modern forms. The interiors take off from the bright yellow of the paella. Its walls will be adorned by posters that communicate humor and wit, and lend graphic accents to the environment. Even the paper placemats will be printed with images of Spanish scenery and architecture—one is a black and white print of the first Spanish lighthouse in the Philippines.

“It was built at the mouth of the Pasig River by an ancestor of mine, a senator named Antonio Terry,” Señor De Terry informs. “At Café Madrid, everything will be young.”

The menu itself reveals a playful twist on old classics. Here, diners will take delight on the Montaditos—typical bite-size sandwiches with lengua, Angus beef, callos and menudo. Those who prefer doing things their way can make their own paella with ingredients ranging from portobello mushrooms, shrimps, chorizos, clams and other mouthwatering treats. This is served in small paelleras to be enjoyed individually.

Surprisingly, running a restaurant was never really on the young De Terry’s mind. What he wanted to be was a pianist. “I started playing piano at the age of 4. The first time I had my concert was during my first communion when I was 5. But after that I studied chemistry and wanted to become an oenologist like my father,” he tells us.

Growing up in Jerez to a family of winemakers, De Terry believes that he got his keen attention to detail from his father who ran his family’s wine business and was considered as one of the best oenologists in Jerez. His mother was a famous cook whose skill was celebrated in Jerez.

“I remember her so well. There were times when we had events at home. We would invite people to come over, and she would be presiding at the table with my father. If a certain dish arrived on the table from the kitchen, and it was not as what my mother had intended, she would stand up, go to the kitchen and fix it herself. That was her dedication to food and cooking,” he relates to us. The same passion and commitment, no doubt, that he brings to Terry’s Bistro to create flavors that evoke fun and the goodness of life for the pure enjoyment of his guests.

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