PEPITA S KITCHEN
Chef Dedet de la Fuente elevates Filipino home cooking into culinary obra maestras
Around nine years ago, Dedet de la Fuente, a homemaker and hands-on mother to her lovely daughters a.k.a. “The Pepitas”, fulfilled a dream by learning how to roast a lechon. Not just any lechon, mind you. Pugon-roasted suckling pigs stuffed with a variety of intensely flavorful and undeniably unique rice stuffings. That was her big idea, the light bulb moment that’s since catapulted her to international renown. Her lechons have been to Singapore, New York, and London, and they are now the showcase fixture in the annual Madrid Fusion in Manila. The home cook has now earned the title of “chef ”, and even has a nickname: Lechon Diva! But back in 2009, when she was starting out, she needed her closest friends to give their frank, and sometimes, brutal opinions about the evolution of her lechon. Our then (very) slim and fit group was invited to many a dinner, tasting and critiquing and validating all those lechons. Suffice to say, for friendship’s sake, and for the love of pork perfection, we sacrificed our beach bods.
Finally, when Dedet felt confident enough, I organized the very first lechon degustation for the country’s most respected and most influential food writers and critics. Dedet and I didn’t really expect raves; we just wanted honest feedback . Pepita’s Kitchen, after all, was very much a work in progress at that point. But after
that dinner, the enthusiastic reviews started coming in, and the accolades haven’t stopped since. Every couple of years, the Lechon Diva creates a whole new menu around her world-famous lechons, and that, for me, is the real secret to her success: innovation. From her fish roe pate a.k.a “Pinoy Caviar” to Balut Salpicao to “Hiplog”, those irresistible plump prawns in a rich itlog na maalat sauce, and more, so much more… thanks to her boundlessly pure Willy Wonka imagination, Pepita’s Kitchen is now at the forefront of the creation of modern Filipino culinary classics.
Almost a decade on, I’m still the Diva’s primary tastetester and cheerleader, so much so that I have my own honorary title: the “Pepito” of Pepita’s Kitchen. And as such, I was fortunate enough to be among the first to savor her new recipes for 2018. Far and away my favorite of the batch is the “Crab Gulong-Gulong”, so called, according to the Diva, because “mapapagulong ka sa sarap!”. And yes, I can attest to this: it’s composed of fresh fatty crabs, the meat thoughtfully and thoroughly separated from the body and the shell, in an exotic Alavar-like sauce, but with a hint of sweetness. It’s the kind of dish that demands a double serving of rice. And since everything’s off the bone, so to speak, it’s twice as nice. Then there’s something I call the “KKK” or Kare-Kareng Kasuy: unbelievably buttery rich and decadently nutty thick, the sauce practically spreadable and absolutely good enough to devour on its own, even without the succulent tender oxtail. Just add rice. Make that lots and lots of rice.
But fret not, my Keto friends. Dedet, ever aware of current trends, has actually developed her very first ketogenic stuffed lechon: it’s filled, not with fragrant flavorful rice, but with the classic Pinoy “lumpiang sariwa” fixin’s – carrots, stringbeans, ubod (heart of palm) – and it comes with crushed peanuts, crispy garlic bits, chili honey, and lumpia sauce to complete the experience. And what an experience it is: get a slab of crunchy lechon skin, some vegetable stuffing, and your choice of condiments, and pile everything on a large leaf of lettuce for a very Filipino protein wrap. Hence it’s punny name, “It’s Sarap!” Get it?
There’s much more in store; the Lechon Diva’s tinkering with a “Pinoy Ramen”. She served it in small batches during her food festival in the Sumilon Bluewater resort. There’s a guinatan that’s undeniably stunning: and it’s savory and sea salt-y, and it only has one component: ube. It’s another culinary magic trick, because wonders will never cease when the Diva’s in her kitchen.
“HER LECHONS HAVE BEEN TO SINGAPORE, NEW YORK, AND LONDON, AND ARE NOW SHOWCASED IN THE ANNUAL MADRID FUSION MANILA.“
1 Crab Gulong Gulong 2 “it’s A Wrap” Lechon with Lumpiang Sariwa Stuffing 3 Kare-kareng Kasuy 4 Biko Mangga’t Tutong na Latik 5 Chef Dedet de la Fuente