The Lechon Diva Sets Fire to Discovery Primea's Flame
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.
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.
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.
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.