The Lechon Diva Dedet De La Fuente Passes On Her Mother’s Legacy To Her Own Daughters
Many of us would probably say that our fondest memories with our loved ones would be those spent around a table laden with food. The Lechon Diva herself, Dedet de la Fuente of Pepita’s Kitchen lovingly recalls bonding with her mother this way. “We both loved going to Chinatown and we loved eating at Manosa, a small restaurant that cooks the best maki,” she begins.
“We would always order her favorite lomi, my favorite camaron, quekiam, and sweet and sour liver. My Daddy would not go with us because he would always say that restaurant was not clean!” she laughs. “But it was (my mommy’s and my) must-go-to place to eat whenever we would go to Chinatown. Up to this day, I look forward to eating my favorites from Manosa.”
As the Lechon Diva, Dedet has become famous, both locally and internationally, for her unrivalled lechon with different stuffings. Not trained as a professional chef, she has nonetheless earned the respect of her peers in the industry who have raved about her lechon and other Filipino specialties.
Above everything, Dedet is a loving mom to her two “Pepitas,” daughters Lileya and Liyora. Her fondest memory with them is the time when they all joined Best Food Forward, a food bazaar for start-ups. “Lileya sold her yummy Butter Beer (the first drink she concocted for our degustacion) and Liyora sold her Chocolate Happiness. She being the chocolate monster in the family came up with a block of chocolate that you can melt with milk or hot water with little mallows.”
Dedet de la Fuente with daughters Liyora and Lileya
The profit the girls made from that weekend was used to buy two second-hand wheelchairs. This led to the girls’ Project Wheelchair Philippines. A year prior to the bazaar, Dedet’s eldest daughter Lauren, who was wheelchair bound all her life, passed away. “[Lileya and Liyora] knew the importance of a wheelchair to a handicapped person and wanted to help poor children who did not have money to buy wheelchairs,” shares Dedet. Since that first bazaar, her girls have raised funds for more than 400 wheelchairs donated to those in need around the country. “It was their gift in memory of their sister,” Dedet says.
Aside from her lechon, Dedet is well known for the private multi-course degustacion dinners she hosts in her home. Her love and flair for entertaining was something she inherited from her own mother. “My mom would always cook for family and friends during every special occasion and holiday—Christmas, New Year, fiestas! Maybe it was because I was an only child and they didn’t want me to be lonely,” she says fondly.
At their young ages, her little Pepitas also take part in these dinners. Her youngest Liyora started with massaging the shoulders of their dinner guests when she was eight years old, and a year after was “promoted” to being the “lechon chopper.” On the other hand, curly-haired Lileya would make the welcome drinks and, for the Dinner at Tiffany’s Degustacion, she played “Moon River” on the harp. Their participation is not just bonding moments for mom and daughters, but also a valuable learning experience. “As much as possible I involve my daughters in my degustacions. After all, they love to spend, so they should also enjoy earning money,” Dedet says with a smile. “I would always give them ‘salaries’ after each degustacion.”
Aside from these practical life lessons, Dedet also makes sure to instill the same values in her daughters that she learned from her own parents. “I try to nourish their souls by showing them kindness and understanding, most specially when they are being very difficult. Now that I am a parent, I always try to look back on how my parents disciplined me and taught me love and kindness.”
She never lets a day pass by without telling her daughters how much she loves them, but she also believes that she can enrich their lives by letting them make their own mistakes. “They are now at the age where they know what’s fundamentally right and wrong. Whenever they fall, I am always there, reminding them that it’s alright to make mistakes. I tell them about the many mistakes and failures I have had, and that those mistakes were necessary for me to become who I am now.”
Dedet admits that it’s not easy raising two children as a single mom. “I pray that they find strength in knowing that their mommy was able to rise above the many difficulties, and they can surely do the same. What a gift to be able to raise them on my own, and seeing a little bit of my mommy, my daddy, and myself in each of them.” Her own personal journey as a daughter, mother, and businesswoman serves as an example for her little Pepitas. Dedet says in closing, “I hope that when they are on their own, they see life has so many beautiful blessings despite the struggles and difficulties they might surely encounter. One must never give up; there is always hope.”
You may get the chance to meet the Lechon Diva herself this Mother’s Day weekend as she will be the first guest chef of High Street Café at Shangri-La at The Fort. You can partake of her famous Truffle Stuffed Lechon de Leche, Kare-Kare, and Crab Gulong-Gulong for dinner on May 11 and 12, and for lunch and dinner on May 13.
Shangri-La at The Fort, 30th Street corner 5th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, (02) 820-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Profile and tablescape photos by JC Inocian for FOOD Magazine