A Self-Taught Chef is cooking up a perfect storm in Pampanga’s most popular private dining destination.
Idon’t think any of Pampanga’s great cooks of yore ever went to a fancy culinary school. Whenever I interview the legends of the province, the story is almost always the same: they hung around in their mother or grandmother’s kitchen, with a child’s insatiable curiosity and appetite, inhaling all the wonderful smells and taking in all the amazing tastes. My Lola Sally was all ouido in the kitchen – she became one of Pampanga’s first and finest caterers, and I believe it was because she had to learn to cook very well, and in volumes, in order to satisfy her brood of seven children, along with her politician husband’s endless stream of houseguests. Such is the case with another home cook – I hesitate to call him a chef only because it might make him blush – who’s behind Pampanga’s most in demand dining destination: Denlim’s Kitchen, where there is usually a ninety day (!) wait to get a confirmed reservation.
Denlim is Dennis Lim, who grew up in and around his family’s L.A. Bakeshop in San Fernando. The bakery has my favorite Spanish bread and is deservedly famous, province wide, for its cheese bread as well. The young Dennis, however, never dreamt of a culinary career when he was a student in the Don Bosco Academy. But when he moved to Manila for college, his childhood friends and dorm mates: Pau Pau, Bobit, and the Diyco brothers, Junie and Raymond, “assigned” cooking duties to him. And that’s where the seed for Denlim’s was planted a couple of decades ago. Dennis, a typical Capampangan, even as a teenager, had an intrinsic knack for the kitchen, and he soon embraced his duties. By circumstance, he’s self-taught, but you’d never suspect it, seeing his knife skills today. But it was a process. To paraphrase John Green: “he fell in love with cooking the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once”.
Dennis’ dishes are inevitably talked aboaut this way: malinamnam and malasa. That’s why they lend themselves naturally to family style dining. Every ingredient is by itself, already tasty, and together, all the components, complete a whole which is so much greater than the sum of its parts. The dishes -- from that divine salad with candied walnuts and toasted pinipig, drenched with a dressing of yogurt and sour cream, to the irresistibly porktastic pugon-roasted crunchy liempo served with authentic buro (fermented rice) – are all best described in one word: as we say in Pampanga: “exagg”!!! Truly everything on the menu is decadently, devilishly, deliriously rich.
The three month wait for a table, and the two to three hour travel time to Sindalan in San Fernando is all worth it. And when you finally get there, leave your diet at the door, because temptation lies within. Give in.
“EVERYTHING ON DENLIM’S MENU IS DECADENTLY, DEVILISHLY, AND DELIRIOUSLY RICH.”
2 Pugon Liempo Wrap
3 Bangus Pate
4 Gambas al Ajillo