Food

The Lechon Diva Sets Fire to Discovery Primea's Flame

There were rumors of a fire at Discovery Primea that night, but only the skills of Dedet dela Fuente and chef Luis Chikiamco were burning hot.
IMAGE Sasha Lim Uy
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You prepare for a Lechon Diva dinner the way you would a marathon. The journey is different, of course, and so is the goal, but both require an intense level of hunger, drive, and endurance, all of which will find you slumped in a corner from the exertion.

When Dedet dela Fuente sends you an invitation, you say yes and arrive hungry. The first time I received one of her coveted invites, I wondered why people kept coming back to her dinners: How often can you challenge your body with an intense lechon-based degustation menu?

A frequent attendee of her famous dinners—a vegetarian, by the way—told me that it wasn’t dela Fuente's ever-improving cookery that had people hooked. Dela Fuente's dinners are special because of dela Fuente: that loud, larger-than-life personality; the way she matches her plates with the dish’s design; how she cups her face in her hands in glee as she announces to everyone she’s finally on Viber; how, despite her growing reputation, she giddily whispers a hot tip she just learned from a chef.

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Whether you’re just lining up for a taste of legendary stuffed lechon or you’re at a table for 20, dela Fuente finds time to talk to you and make you feel like you’ve been friends forever. The food, in case it's starting to come off as a side note, is absolutely stellar. For dela Fuente, you enjoy (and suffer) the calories. 

So, one Wednesday night, when a sudden downpour brought Metro Manila to a standstill, there was no place I’d rather be than at Flame Restaurant where the Lechon Diva herself was holding a one-night-only collaboration with the restaurant’s own prodigious chef Luis Chikiamco.

Dela Fuente is a tough act to match. Her skill set, which is very nearly perfect (and I hold back only to acknowledge her own humility), centered around instant crowd-pleasers—a warm homestyle menu merged with all the ways you can enjoy lechon. Flame’s unassuming chef, however, knows how to keep pace, and he presented heavy hitters himself like foie gras, lamb, rib eye, and seafood (for something light). It wasn’t a competition, but we all felt like winners.

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Dela Fuente’s and Chikiamco's culinary backgrounds couldn't be more different, but they share the proclivity of transforming common dishes into something worthwhile. Chikiamco, for example, draws inspiration from his personal favorites. The chef, who first made a name for himself with lobster machang and a foie gras sinigang, channeled Pinoy barbecue for his lamb and adobo steak. Like dela Fuente, the French-trained chef loves taking notes and he mentioned how his rib eye was developed through a technique he learned from chef Vicky Cheng’s exceptional charsiu during a previous collaboration.

I’ve had his foie gras sinigang a few times and I was disappointed not to see it on the 12-course menu. It wasn't the ostentation or novelty of the beloved French delicacy in a humble Filipino stew. It's the thrill of tasting how it gets better every time. The last time I spoke to the chef, he was excited about a new trick that will bring together the sourness of the soup and the richness of the liver. His alternative, for the evening, however, was hardly a substitute. His foie gras congee took gruel to its highest form: a 63-degree egg, crispy garlic shavings, smoked duck breast in a thick gingery rice soubise.

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By the last dessert (petit fours from the chef), we were all practically laying on the plush chairs exhausted from the marathon of 12 dishes. It was, yet again, another unforgettable meal, with the dishes only speaking of the caliber of the people behind them. The talent is not simply in recreating everyday stuff into an extraordinary experience (toss a truffle in a pancake and jaws will drop). Dedet and Luis know better than to throw cheap tricks in your plate to fool you into thinking you witnessed something incredible. They may not be the most obvious pairing, but their collaboration worked because both of them do not impress. They make an impression.

An appropriate start to every Lechon Diva dinner: chicharon IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy
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After dela Fuente's signature lechon scones paired with her very own Mr. Thomas butter, she presented an overly generous bowl of balut salpicao. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy

One of the lighter options in the series was Chikiamco's tuna kilawin, a deceptive start to what would be an intense food experience. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy
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The chef offered the only seafood dishes in the degustation. His "Seafood Bounty" comes with a lato salad, but the most impressive element is the blanket of tomato and lemongrass gelee, which looks like a clear disc of prosciutto. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy

Keeping with the theme of heft, Luis had a crab croquette with crab fat bechamel and garlic. Both Chikiamco and dela Fuente refuse to let guests leave unsatisfied, hence they're habit of larger-than-usual degustation servings. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy
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Another classic Lechon Diva dish: a "lechon sandwich," the skin and meat sandwich foie gras and cheese. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy

One day, dela Fuente sat there thinking how she could improve upon sisig. The answer: a sisig chicharon ball in a pool of her very own "sabachara." IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy
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One for the books: Chikiamco's foie gras congree with smoked duck breast, garlic, 63-degree sous-vide egg, and ginger-rice soubise. This is the congee we want to eat for the rest of our lives. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy

The wonderful flavor of spices permeate every bite of this boneless stuffed lechon manok. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy
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This Pinoy BBQ, made using lamb, was inspired by Chef Vicky Cheng of the Michelin-starred VEA. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy

In case you ever wondered how lechon could be healther: the lechon sawrap is a lumpiang gulay stuffed lechon.
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A slightly sweet bilo-bilo. dela Fuente originally created much larger glutinous rice balls, but we prefer these smaller ones stuffed with a variety of flavors. IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy

Petit fours courtesy of Flame Restaurant IMAGE: Sasha Lim Uy
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About The Author
Sasha Lim Uy
Managing Editor, EsquireMag.ph
Sasha eats to live and lives to eat. For five years, she handled SPOT.ph's food section and edited the last two installments of its Top 10 Food books. She also recently participated at the Madrid Fusion Manila as curator.
View Other Articles From Sasha
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