Written by Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz
Illustrated by Mhery Ann Andes
Doreen Gamboa Fernandez (1934-2002) was a teacher, journalist, writer and cultural researcher. She was born in Manila on October 28, 1934, the eldest of three children of Aguinaldo S. Gamboa and Alicia G. Lucero. She spent her childhood in genteel Silay, Negros Occidental, her father’s hometown. She was educated at home by her parents before she went to formal school. Even as a young student, she already excelled in school—she was grade school salutatorian at St. Theresita’s Academy and graduated with honors from high school at St. Scholastica’s College, Manila. She was a cum laude graduate of liberal arts, majoring in English and history. She exemplified the ideal student who never tired of learning. She worked on graduate studies in history after completing an MA in English Literature at the Ateneo de Manila Graduate School. Decades later, she returned to the Ateneo to pursue a doctorate degree in literature. It was at the Ateneo in the 70s when she discovered the richness of Philippine culture and realized the need to research and to write about this for her fellow Filipinos and the rest of the world.
She married pioneering interior designer and architect Wili Fernandez in 1958 and shared many interests with him—art, travel, theater, food and culture. The extensive Wili and Doreen Fernandez Collection of Philippine modern art is housed at the De La Salle University-Manila Museum.
Doreen wrote scholarly and popular works on Philippine culture, specifically on literary, culinary and theater history. Her interest in culinary history was also a search for the Filipino identity. To her, food was a “touchstone to memory, a measure of relationships with nature and neighbors, and with the world.”
Her books include: The Iloilo Zarzuela: 1903-1930; In Performance; The Writer and His Milieu; Writers and Their Milieu; Lasa: Guide to Manila Restaurants; Sarap: Essays on Philippine Food; Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness; Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture; Palabas: Essays on Philippine Theater; Face to Face: The Craft of Interviewing; Fruits of the Philippines; Philippine Food Through Time, on Site, in the Pot.
Despite her numerous books and her long running newspaper food column, Doreen is proudest of her role as a teacher. She was professor at the Ateneo, served in many administrative positions, and was chairperson of the Department of Communication for many years. Well loved and held in high regard by her students, her name and memory live on in the two professorial chairs that they have established in her honor in fields of study close to her heart: Philippine culture, creative writing, and communication arts.
In recognition of her excellence as a teacher, Metrobank Foundation honored her with the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1998. She was a posthumous awardee of the Gawad CCP for the Arts in 2004 for her groundbreaking cultural research. The Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Competition is an annual national competition that was initiated since her death to acknowledge her significant contribution to the genre.
Doreen was active in the protest movement against the Marcos dictatorship and generously assisted friends who had to live in the underground as a security measure. The comforts of her home offered a welcome refuge and they remember with much gratitude the care and hospitality and delicious meals of every visit.
She died unexpectedly from pneumonia complications on June 24, 2002 in New York City while on vacation.