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Inspiring Conversations with Javier Fernandez of Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly

Today we’d like to introduce you to Javier Fernandez.

Hi Javier, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers?
I was born in a family of cooks. My Father is a self-taught personal chef and my mother started her own Filipino pastry catering business (Gwenies Pastries). Now they deliver to all Filipino Asian markets across the DMV and through the internet. I went to a local culinary school and have been working around the DMV food scene since 2006. Working from chef to chef to learn and master my cooking skills. Cooking great food to me always started from “home.” Growing up, every time my parents hosted a party, the food was always the best and they took a lot of pride in that. My mother has always pushed me to become a chef. At one party, my father cooked a Lechon Belly for a party and it intrigued me so much, that I took some time off to master the art of cooking Lechon.

I was born on a small island called Cebu, Philippines. Cebu is known to have the best Lechon in the world according to the late Anthony Bourdaine. When I saw an episode of “Parts Unknown” where Anthony had visited Cebu, it brought me to tears. He told the world that it was the best pork he has ever tasted. Delicious crackling skin and fatty tender meat with the aromas of local lemongrass, scallions, and garlic. That’s when I woke up and made it my mission to bring that whole experience to the DMV. I wanted to bring Lechon here where I grew up. Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly came about.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
We have only been open for a few over three years and we have seen all the ups and downs with opening a restaurant. All the stress and struggles to stay open and keep our customers happy and satisfied. When this pandemic first started, we ended up closing for about three months.

We were uncertain about our future at that point, but I couldn’t give up. I had my wife, my two daughters, my parents, and my whole team at KUYA JA’s relying on me to open back up. My main concern was to keep everyone safe. We followed all the protocols after reopening, and we have been open since.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly?
I am the chef and owner of Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly here in Rockville, MD. We specialize in Pork Roast Lechon Belly (porchetta) which is a traditional Filipino food that takes about 7-8 hours of roasting. We’ve had customers come from all parts of the world and tell us that our Lechon brings them back to Cebu.

As a chef, when you hear that, it makes me appreciate and love what I do more. All the countless hours you put in every week to make sure the food comes out great and consistent doesn’t feel like work in the end. We also serve other Filipino favorites in a small fast-casual setting. We do catering and work with our sister brand Gwenies Pastries that also serves traditional Filipino sweets.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
If you have a vision and a passion, make it come true by doing all the smalls steps to get there. There are no shortcuts in succeeding. You have to keep pushing and working harder than everyone else to reach those goals. Make smart financial decisions especially when you are just starting out. Build a great team, always do what’s right, and treat your staff as your family. Without them, you are nothing.

I wish I had opened a restaurant using a second-generation kitchen to save half the money on construction. Save anywhere you can.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Jennifer Fernandez – wife and owner of Kuya Ja’s

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