Betting on the Filipina and lechon, di-va?


Philip Cu Unjieng

It’s always good to share good news when it comes to the Philippines, and our making global waves, in one arena or another. In the world of sports, there was Yuka Saso’s near-miracle playoff win at the LPGA US Open last month. Thank you, ICTSI, for sponsoring her, Bianca Pagdanganan, and other Filipina female golfers, giving them the opportunity to pursue their golfing careers; and in the case of Yuka and Bianca, represent our flag in the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics. And then there was Alex Eala at Roland Garros, snagging the Girls Doubles French Open title - her second Grand Slam Girls title.

Is it just me noticing, or is it evident that in the sports arena, it’s the girls reaching that level that can make them world champions? Yuka is only 20 years of age, while Alex is 16! Call me a traitor to my gender, but when you factor in weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, it would seem that our chances of achieving a better ratio of ‘Olympic athletes sent’ versus ‘medals won’ is best accomplished by sending an all-female contingent. Just saying, and I hope I’m proven wrong when the Tokyo Olympics gets underway on July 23rd. But just once, I’d really like to see the day when we send an all-female contingent, and see what happens.

Meanwhile, if it’s the culinary world we’re talking about; I’m so proud of how my friend, Dedet de la Fuente, AKA Lechon Diva, brought her act to Las Vegas - opening her Pepita’s Kitchen at the new Resorts World Las Vegas. The Resorts World Las Vegas is the first new resort casino to open at the famous Las Vegas Strip in a decade. And despite the ongoing global pandemic, as things have drastically improved in the USA, the casino opened just last week, at the north side of the Strip. It’s a much needed spark for this beleaguered city in the desert, and here’s to the success of the new Resorts World in general, and Pepita’s Kitchen, in particular.

Carrying the flag with pride (literally), Pepita’s Lechon with Truffle Rice. (Photo from Dedet de la Fuente FB page)

One of over 40 F&B options at the resort, Pepita’s Kitchen is located at the area known as Famous Food Street Eats, where Dedet and her lechon are among the 16 food stalls representing the very best, hand-picked purveyors of Asian cuisine. If you’ve been living under a culinary rock, and aren’t familiar with Dedet and her Lechon Diva persona, she’s the one who popularized lechon stuffed with rice that’s truffle- or sisig-flavored - just to name two of her most known variants. She also hosts an annual charity dinner at the Manila Hotel in honor of a daughter who passed away, and I was fortunate enough to attend one when Issa (Litton) hosted. She’s irrepressible, she’s a joy to interact with, and she’s so ready to share her fountain of knowledge of the Philippine food scene. My sons and I will always appreciate how she clued me in on a wonderful Japanese steak place in the ‘bowels’ of Makati Cinema Square.

At Pepita’s Kitchen Las Vegas, she opened offering the Lechon with Truffle Rice, and a Sisig Panini. Filipinos who live/work in Las Vegas trooped to her stall, gushing about how it’s the first time that Filipino cuisine has been represented in the resort casinos on the Strip, and how proud they were. A certain ex-heavyweight boxing world champion dropped by, and when Dedet posted on Facebook a picture with said boxer, it was so typically brilliant Filipino humor to find some comments asking if he favored the ‘tenga ng baboy’ - bit off the lechon’s ear. Yes, we’re referring to Mike Tyson.

Our Lechon Diva, Dedet de la Fuente and daughter, at her Pepita’s Kitchen stall at the newly-opened Resorts World Las Vegas. (Photo from Dedet de la Fuente FB page)

On the day they were open, garbed in the special outfit that Rajo Laurel had designed for her, it touched me read Dedet’s post, and how she said, ‘The Philippine lechonera has truly landed in Las Vegas. She is holding an abaca fan while roasting lechon… and she is wearing Adidas Ultra Boost. This image completes the new logo and the new look of the Lechon Diva of Pepita’s Kitchen. I feel this represents the modern-day Filipina. Hard-working, not afraid to do things not typically asked of a girl, and comfortable wearing what she wants.’

Pre-pandemic, Dedet and I shared this crazy codeword of ‘Ginkgo Biloba’. At one level, it jokingly referred to how we were always planning to meet up for a meal with friends, and would forget. And on a second level, it referred precisely to how forgetful we both were, and that it could be early onset Alzheimer’s - GB apparently being touted as good for memory, besides being an anti-oxidant.

Well Dedet, I’ve not forgotten to offer a special prayer that Pepita’s Kitchen enjoys sustained success, and branches out to other outlets all over the world. If there’s someone who deserves this kind of success, it’s you and your big heart.

Thank you for flying the colors of the Philippines at Pepita’s Kitchen - you’re our gold medalist. Mabuhay, and Ginkgo Biloba!