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12 Courses For An Outstanding Cause

Dedet de la Fuente of Pepita’s Kitchen has been mounting her annual Project Wheelchair benefit dinner for some years now; and for the third year in a row, it was held at the Champagne Room, Manila Hotel. This year, thanks to the number of chefs and food enthusiasts who were eager to help out and be part of the night, it was a twelve course dinner. 



Now it’s easy to overthink twelve courses; and worry that you need to fast before the dinner, or plan an extensive workout for the following morning. But in fact, these degustation dinners do develop a languid pace of their own, and the portions served are often tasting portions that go down quickly. It’s only after three fourths of the courses are done with, that one might feel stuffed and wave the white flag of surrender.


For those who aren’t aware, Dedet and her Pepita’s Kitchen is best known for their Truffle Lechon - something that’s been on the must-try list of any Filipino foodie since Dedet was christened the Lechon Diva in 2010. As for Project Wheelchair, it stems from a personal family tragedy - Dedet’s late daughter, Lauren, suffered from cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. The eldest in the family of three girls, Lauren passed away at the age of 13; and Project Wheelchair is a mother and sisters (Lileya and Lilora) helping the unfortunates who need, but can’t afford, a wheelchair. Through the dinner, money to buy wheelchairs is raised, and Dedet and her daughters spread the chairs across various beneficiaries.


This year, the beneficiaries included Wounded Soldiers, and there were representatives who spoke, mentioning that most of the wheelchairs this year would go to veterans of Marawi. Another beneficiary is the advocacy headed by Joel Uichico, and this involves extending his drive to supply bikes to children who have to walk long distances just to attend school (Bikes for the Philippines), with wheelchairs for the children of Davao’s House of Hope, a halfway home for terminally-ill children. 


As for the Food that night, everything on the menu had been carefully curated by Dedet; and my personal highlights were the Stracciatella with Strawberries, the Seafood Lumpia in Squid Ink Wrapper, and the 6-Hour Cooked Short Ribs with Roasted Bone Marrow. And of course, Dedet’s own Truffle Rice Stuffed Lechon, was the final main course the whole room was waiting for. 


Strawberry Stracciatella


Seafood Lumpia in Squid Ink Wrapper


6-Hour Cooked Short Ribs with Roasted Bone Marrow


As for the chefs and food enthusiasts who gave a helping hand to the event, The Who’s-who roll call would be Happy Ongpauco-Tiu, Jules and Cello Templo, Ed Bugia, Karla Reyes, Bettina Osmeña, Laurence Cua, Rommel Hinlo, Mike Tatung, Gaita Forés, Roselyn Tiangco-Siapno, Pixie Sevilla, Pearl de Guzman, Aaron Aw, Denny & Rina Wang, Sharwin Tee, Rhoda Aldanese, Mary Jane Young, and Nespresso; with Issa Litton hosting the night. 


If there was one gesture that had me misty-eyed about just how much this annual dinner meant to Dedet and her daughters; it was how on every table in the Champagne Room, the menu had a handwritten note from Dedet mentioning every person at the table by name, and thanking them for joining her that night. That’s some supreme effort of personalizing the event, and making us all feel very special and appreciated. 

As the night came to a close, Dedet announced that this year’s dinner had resulted in 208 wheelchairs.


Photos courtesy of Philip Cu-Unjieng