Dedet De La Fuente proves that it’s not always a cape that defines a superhero — sometimes it’s a magic jacket. Her flashy black coat emblazoned with the words Lechon Diva on the back features intertwining florals, a crown, and, of course, two pink pigs. It’s as much of a mood changer and confidence provider as it is a sartorial statement.
“When I’m not wearing my magic jacket, I am just anyone, but when I wear it my persona changes, I become the real ‘diva,’” she says, her voice rising to stress the word. “I think it completes the package. My magic jacket elevates me. When I have it on my mood suddenly changes. I become the Lechon Diva!”
Dedet doesn’t need any wardrobe help to transform into the celebrated chef she’s become. Her Filipino food has won global awards, and without a restaurant, she made her mark on Manila’s food scene serving exclusive 12-course private degustation dinners at her home. As her following grew, word spread about her crispy lechon stuffed with truffle rice, and soon stars including Adam Richman, Anthony Bourdain, and Martha Stewart were all paying her a visit just for a taste.
Now that she’s opened the very first Filipino restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip, she’s a celebrity in her own right. Dedet’s arrival with Pepita’s Kitchen at Famous Foods Street Eats at Resorts World was the culmination of years of hard work, and now she’s happy to be sharing Filipino food with a global audience. “It was so surreal to see people lining up and wanted to have a photo with the Lechon Diva,” she says of the Resorts World grand opening in June. “This was never planned. It’s been a gift. I’m so blessed to be doing this and so thankful that they thought of putting the east and west together in a food court.”
The credit for Famous Foods Street Eats goes to the Zouk Group’s Andrew Li, chief executive officer, and executive chairman Hui Lim. Together, they scoured the globe looking for the world’s most coveted street food. “Famous Foods was designed to celebrate cuisine from around the world and we felt it was the perfect opportunity to introduce Filipino dishes to the Las Vegas Strip,” Li explains. “We instantly fell in love with Dedet, her cooking, and her story. We knew she would be a perfect fit. She truly is the Lechon Diva and the best person to make Filipino food a global sensation.”
Dedet’s passion for cooking started at home watching her mother prepare traditional Filipino dishes. As her interest in being in the kitchen grew, she attended cooking school, but even then her intention was never to become a chef, let alone open a restaurant. “I’m an only child. I don’t have siblings, so friends mean the world to me,” Dedet says. “I love entertaining my friends. Almost every week they would come over as I was trying to perfect my lechon recipe. Then they said, ‘Why don’t you join Our Awesome Planets taste test contest?’ I said okay without knowing what I was getting into. It was a very tiring day, but it was very fulfilling. People would say ‘Wow!’ We had one of the highest marks for that year.”
After earning the contest’s top award in 2010 with her lechon with binagoongan rice stuffing, Dedet continued to showcase her food at other events, represented the Philippines at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore, and by attending food festivals all while building a rabid following.
As she tinkered with various stuffings, Dedet perfected her famous truffle rice stuffing, which she serves with her crispy lechon at Resorts World, along with a sisig panini (roasted pork sandwich with pickled vegetables and provolone cheese on ciabatta).
“I only came about with truffle rice stuffed lechon because my two daughters would always order truffle risotto. Then one day I stuffed my lechon with truffle risotto and it really took off from there,” Dedet explains of her signature dish. “I think for Filipino food to make it to the world stage it has to continue to evolve. It cannot be what it was 100 years ago. The palate changes. We need to take into consideration that the world is out there waiting to taste something new, so I think this was one big step for lechon.”
News of her modern take on lechon, the traditional celebratory dish of the Philippines, made the rounds and soon foodies such as Richman were calling. She met Richman in 2016 when we went to Manila to film an episode with her for Secret Eats on the Travel Channel. For his visit, Dedet prepared a completely new menu for him, to rave reviews with Richman calling her lechon simply “decadent.”
“I’d like to think we’ve become friends,” she says, adding that on the day of this interview Richman commented, “So beautiful,” on her Instagram post of her cooking lechon on the beach. “That’s just how as Adam is. A wonderful guy.”
Her encounters with Bourdain and Stewart were equally memorable. Bourdain, she says, had multiple servings. “He ate with his hands and had it doggy-bagged. I couldn’t believe it. That’s my brag — that Anthony Bourdain carried out what was left of his lechon when he left.”
As for Martha Stewart, Dedet met the home-cooking and lifestyle icon at a leadership conference in Manila in 2019. “She ate and looked at me, we met eye to eye, and she said, ‘Dedet, your lechon is soooo good.’ All I could say was, ‘Well, my mom says it’s the best lechon in the universe.’ Then she laughed and had another serving.”
Dedet has always maintained that her singular goal is to introduce Filipino food to the world. At Resorts World, she’s getting that chance. “I was there for almost two weeks and there were many people who said that this was the first time tasting Filipino food,” she says, smiling. “Filipino food is very lucky to have a space at Resorts World where people can taste it and see, at last, how good Filipino food is.”