A RAMMYS Rising Star finalist, the chef behind Lechon Belly, a gift of Cebu

Chef Javier Fernandez of Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly serves delicacy with authenticity, pride

The annual restaurant awards gala in Washington, D.C., known as the RAMMYS, is fast-approaching. Executive Chef Javier Fernandez of Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly is a finalist for the Rising Culinary Star of the Year award being announced June 30. An endearing, fitting prospect for the award, Fernandez was born in Cebu City in the Philippines to a mother who is a talented baker and a father, who is now a personal chef. His mother started a Filipino bakery called Gwenie’s Pastries in Rockville, Md. and her daughter, Stella Fernandez, runs the wholesale portion of the bakery.

You can find her delicious pastries at Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly. which is more well-known for its namesake dish from Fernandez. The pastries were also featured at the Philippine Embassy during this year’s annual Passport DC when the embassies open their doors to the public.

Fernandez’ passion for the culinary industry was inspired by his parents at a very young age. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Washington, D.C. and he attended high school in Chevy Chase, Md. He graduated from the L’Academie de Cuisine, which has since shuttered. He is also a former employee of the late Michel Richard’s Ritz-Carlton location in Tysons Corner, where he first sharpened his chef skills.

In May 2018, he brought his culinary talents to the Kensington-Rockville border, where he opened Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly. Fernandez’s wife, Jennifer, is also his business partner and has been by his side starting from day one. He flew back to Cebu over the years to not only visit family, but also to master roasting the lechon belly.

Kuya Ja's Filipino cuisine is resonating with foodies across the region. Photo by Kuya Ja's Lechon Belly.
Kuya Ja’s Filipino cuisine is resonating with foodies across the DMV. Photo by Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly.

“My goal is to put Filipino cuisine on the map one dish at a time,” he said about his signature dish. “That crispy, mahogany skin of the lechon is something that I take a lot of pride in, coming from my home town of Cebu. It took me over a year to consistently master that craft using my own method.”

What is lechon belly exactly? Lechon belly is the entire boneless pig roasted over-charcoal, rotisserie style, which is Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly specialty. The unique way of roasting a boneless pig is unique to Cebu City and what Fernandez sought to bring to the metropolitan area.

“Our biggest strength is probably the fact that we are serving something totally different, but to simple perfection and Filipino food is on the rise right now,” said Fernandez. “Lechon is something that you only get to eat during special occasions in the Philippines. Here, at Kuya Ja’s, it’s available every day. I’m not really sure (about) the RAMMYS part. I feel really humbled to be in that category. I just love to cook and tell my story through my food in a soulful way.”

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These are his thoughts on what he feels helped him stand out among other restaurants throughout the metropolitan area. Since there are an astonishing 7,641 islands throughout the Philippines, Fernandez knows Filipinos will be his biggest critics. His passion and pride for his roots is evident in every dish. Congratulations again to Fernandez on his nomination for a 2019 RAMMY Award for Rising Culinary Star of the Year.

Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly, 5268-H, Nicholson Lane, Kensington, Md. 20895

Author credit: Lisa Comento

Photo credit: Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly

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