The former executive chef of Mission Chinese Food—now creative director of food and culture at The Standard International—on de-colonizing food, and her favorite childhood dishes.
Last December, during Art Basel in Miami Beach, chef Angela Dimayuga conceptualized a dinner for New York women of color cross-disciplinary creative studio Chroma and the Miami females of color empowerment organization (F)empower. For the main course, Dimayuga stewed red snapper in garlic and habanero peppers, doused with lime—inspired by a Haitian dish. Dimayuga, who is Filipino-American, added a nod to her own heritage, through a silky coconut adobo, a Filipino dish where a protein is braised in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, peppercorns, and bay leaf, that Dimayuga would affectionately call “dobo-dobo” as a child.
The meal encapsulates just what Dimayuga is setting out to do as hotel group The Standard International’s first creative director of food and culture. Dimayuga was a free agent following a vocal departure in fall 2017, announced on Instagram, after six years as the executive chef of Mission Chinese Food. Standard International CEO Amar Lalvani, who had met Dimayuga when she made a dinner for an ACLU dinner at The Standard Spa in Miami in December 2017, approached the chef with a proposal to helm the kitchen of one of its restaurants at The Standard, London, which opens this spring. Dimayuga declined and Michelin-Starred chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias ended up taking the role. “My expected path is to open a restaurant,” Lalvani recalls Dimayuga telling him. “I don’t really want to do that, but I love what you’re doing, is there any way I could be involved in a bigger way—culturally, socially, creatively?” “She’s more than just a chef,” said Lalvani, who told her, “We’ll make a position for you to do what you love and you’re fantastic about.”
So last May, Dimayuga announced her new position, which enables her to take a multiplatform approach to linking food to art, fashion, music, design, and more—a perspective that makes Dimayuga and Standard International the perfect fit, considering her network includes the likes of DJ Venus X, Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, and artist Korakrit Arunanondchai. “Those are my interests anyways, and I’m always going to be happy to work via food, but food opens up so many other things,” Dimayuga told Document during a recent trip to Mexico City with Sanchez-Iglesias and The Standard team to do research for the brand’s upcoming Spanish-Mexican fusion restaurant in its London location.
I sat down with Dimayuga over a barbacoa lunch at El Pica 1 in La Purificación, a small town in Texcoco, about an hour’s drive from Mexico City. With the current controversy over appropriation in art, fashion, and other creative industries, I ask Dimayuga about the stance on cultural appropropriation in the food world. “There’s definitely this colonizer mentality when we go to these places,” she said. “We were talking about even Spanish colonization of Mexico, and how the flavors are sort of similar, in our previous car ride. I think about that stuff a lot, and at least for me, if there’s a transparency of where it’s coming from, the inspiration, and that we’re vocal about the fact that it’s coming from our point of view, it’s maybe okay because it’s our interpretation of it. There’s a lot of folks that don’t say where things come from. It’s simply credit, and that’s all you have to do, cause if you make a version of this experience, or I make a version of this experience, they’re going to be totally different.”
Food is also a way for those who may not have the money or time to travel to experience and taste different cultures. “Food doesn’t have borders, but the people who cook them do,” said Dimayuga, who recounted the story of an African-American friend, food writer Osayi Endolyn, who tasted a Sichuan mung bean dish similar to one she once served at Mission Chinese—a soft block made from mung bean flour and water, and covered in Sichuan peppercorn oil, chili oil, and a garlic chili crisp, which is then sprinkled with cilantro or peanuts. “She was like, ‘Holy shit, I feel like this dish was made for me,’” remembered Dimayuga “I think that’s the beauty of when we talk about food without borders, right?” Dimayuga then ponders how referencing different cultures in food introduces people to new cultural experiences. “Maybe, for someone like her, she wouldn’t have even ever had that mung bean dish that she said felt like chemically was made for her,” said the chef. “She wouldn’t have had access if her Chinese friend didn’t show her the dish.”
Dimayuga—who was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area in San Jose, California—comes from a food-focused family. Her grandmother’s sister’s baked goods launched a chain of bakeries, known for mango cake, in the Philippines called Red Ribbon. Dimuyuga’s father, after moving stateside, managed a McDonald’s franchise in the South Bay, and came up with the idea of the McDonald’s Extra Value Meal. Although Dimayuga grew up surrounded by Mexican and Cantonese food in the culturally-diverse Bay Area, her young palate was mostly exposed to Filipino food at home, and at her friends’ and relatives’ houses. “It was a treat for us to go out to eat fast food so I ate at Taco Bell a lot growing up,” said the chef.
Aspects of Filipino cuisine would later sneak their way into the menu at Mission Chinese. There was a kale and umeboshi dish that was brothy and sour like the the Filipino dish sinigang, a sour broth with seafood and vegetables. “I was recognizing the connections I was making to those dishes, and then talking about it, because certain dishes would be secretly Filipino. I intentionally put that in air quotes because I just realized it was my trained palate as a child,” said Dimayuga, who also added an ode to her grandmother’s Chicken Rellenong, an egg and sausage-stuffed chicken.
When asked why Filipino food hasn’t made it mainstream—despite the ethnicity being the second-largest Asian minority in the United States after Chinese, and small strides like Nicole Ponseca’s Jeepney and Maharlika restaurants in New York’s East Village, or other Filipino chefs on the scene like Dale Talde—Dimayuga thinks about the Filipino tradition of working in healthcare. “We just don’t have that history around having—being an immigrant culture that wanted to do service work or in restaurants in particular,” she says. But that’s slowly changing, and Dimayuga is one of the active participants who is bringing Filipino cuisine to a larger audience. “With a lot of attention around Filipino food, we’re going to start to see that.” she said, before discussing her own role. “It’s important for me too, I think, [to] keep doing work and being visible and talking about my work. As a Filipino, I’m talking about it.”
Dimayuga’s identity—a queer, female, Filipino chef—is an anomaly in the kitchen, but that’s partly what motivates her. “I was with a lot of people that weren’t like me, but I always felt like I had my own identity, and that made me special,” she said. “I felt good about that.” So she worked hard in the kitchen to prove herself, despite off-putting comments from male colleagues. “As a young line cook, I couldn’t say much except for knowing that I had to keep my head down and work really hard and that’s what I did,” said Dimayuga, recalling how the experience has formed her. “But then a leadership position—it was something that couldn’t really fly if I was there,” she continued. “So yeah, you butt heads with people, but I think if you’re in any leadership position that happens. It depends on what you’re trying to fight for.”
At the moment, Dimayuga is harnessing her power—and that of her vast network of creatives—to fight for what she believes in. At the moment, that’s using food as a vehicle for awareness, change, and, of course, to simply bring people together to enjoy a good meal.