“Money never starts an idea. It is always the idea that starts the money,” goes a quote by American politician Owen Laughlin. Larry Cortez, a confessed bookworm (his current read is The 50th Law by rapper 50 Cent and Robert Greene), may not have come across that line in the hundreds of volumes he’s read, but he sure swears by it. He presently has a string of 20 restaurants, all founded with longtime friend and coworker Chef Mau Arjona, to prove it.
Cortez and Arjona are managing partner and executive chef, respectively, of the Chefs’ Quarter Group of Restaurants, which counts Chefs’ Quarter Restaurant and Wine Bar, Old Vine Grille, Kusê, Uncle Cheffy, Beurre Blanc, and Larry and Mau Diner among its growing roster of affordable dining brands.
Each brand is a practice in what Cortez calls “creative imitation”—taking something that’s common and tweaking it just enough to make it different. For instance, they will turn a typical burger-and-fries fast food restaurant into one that also offers slow-cooked steaks and salads, as the case with Larry and Mau Diner, which recently opened near the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
At Uncle Cheffy, a binagoongan (pork with shrimp paste) dish, usually served with a bit of sauce, will be prepared dry and tossed into a salad. Pizza can also be made using puff pastry crust—thus the crumbly delicacy served at Beurre Blanc, their French-Mediterranean fine-dining place at Resorts World Manila.