Let them eat cake. While cake is typically celebratory, the french Revolution teaches us that it can also be political. At 32 years old, with a decade of professional culinary experience under her belt, NYC-based chef Angela Dimayuga conscientiously navigates the boundary of politics and food. Currently serving as the “Creative Director of Food and Culture” at ever-trendy hotel group The Standard, Dimayuga most recently found herself at the center of the conversation when she posted a note on Instagram as a response to a DM request to be profiled for IvankaTrump.com. “As a queer person and daughter of immigrant parents, I am not interested in being profiled as an aspirational figure for those that support a brand and President that slyly disparages female empowerment. Sharing my story with a brand and family that silences our same voices is futile.” The response quickly went viral.
In 2018, the boundary between politics and identity is rapidly dissolving. And, as a fundamental element of cultural identity, food is inextricably bound with political expression. For example, wasn’t it Ivanka’s dear orange father who sparked international outrage when he tweeted about that “beautiful piece of chocolate cake” he enjoyed while telling President Xi about the airstrikes in Syria? Who tweeted a picture of himself eating a taco bowl to prove that, despite his words and actions, he “loves Hispanics?” A less charming brat than Miss Antoinette, but just as out of touch.
Incisive and intensely passionate about her work, Dimayuga doesn’t allow for a single lull in our hour-long conversation. Each question I ask prompts a bullet train of thought, her kaleidoscopic perspective fluidly traversing a broad range of ideas and concepts. As we discuss the nuanced relationship between politics and food, Angela paints me a picture of another fraught, cake-related dinner scene: “There was someone of mixed race, part black from NewYork City, and then people from Israel making Israeli food and, you know... we just got into a really heated political argument. It just got really bad.” Unbeknownst to the squabbling table, her friend’s mother was secretly making a flourless chocolate cake to surprise a particular gluten-intolerant dinner guest. “So she brought out this flourless chocolate cake, which in my opinion is a very old school, yet contemporary dish. I felt like it was very ’90s or 2000s, and I loved it. After that, everyone kind of just shut the fuck up and we just enjoyed the cake. Even though everyone felt this sort of tension from the conversation, the only thing that anyone could comment on after was that cake.” In this case, a beautiful chocolate cake is a source of communion; something tangible and rudimentary that transcends surface-level differences.
Throughout our conversation, I grapple with the duality of cuisine as both high-concept and purely emotional. I eat therefore I am? I think therefore I eat? But this multi-dimensional perspective is something Dimayuga navigates with ease. “It’s been really important for me to vocalize who I am, that I am first-generation, and that I’m queer, because that has directly affected the way that I’ve navigated the food world.” Dimayuga’s parents emigrated from the Philippines and settled in San Jose California to raise Angela and her five siblings.
The passion for food came early. At age five, Dimayuga already knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I would watch PBS cooking shows as a kid rather than Saturday morning cartoons,” she tells me. Unlike most of us, she followed through. Like many young 20-somethings with an unwavering devotion to a childhood dream, Dimayuga moved to New York City. At 21 she was already running a line at Vinegar Hill House, lying about her age so her youth wouldn’t undermine her authority in the eyes of her co-workers. “I always felt like I was an outlier because of the type of person that I am. Someone that’s really interested in art and the craft of cooking as art—or as an expression of who you are as a person. Because my inspiration for cooking has really come from the social aspect of eating, being a part of a big family, it meant so much to me early on in my career to work with people that I was happy to stand next to for 15 hours a day.”
Mentorship figures heavily into Angela’s dogma as a chef. She attributes her meteoric rise, from line-cook at Vinegar Hill House to executive chef of Mission Chinese, to the mentorship and collaboration that buoyed her through all those 15-hour days. The late Anthony Bourdain, an early advocate of her career, numbers among Dimayuga’s long list of mentors and influences. He is quoted in an interview with ChefsFeed as saying, “If you were to appoint an official ambassador, somebody with the juice, the trust, the confidence to open a place serving Filipino food, I think she would be a good advocate.”
Dimayuga has an introspective relationship with her Filipino heritage: “I thought about that a lot in the last five years, and being vocal about why my talent is the way that it is... as a kid, having sour foods is really different from other Asian cultures, and I think that really helped me develop my own palette, which I find creatively liberating.” Angela is continuously pushing the narrative of Asian American food, beginning with our culture’s double standards. “As a chef running a restaurant, if I’m serving a plate of noodles that I think are worth $15, but the public perception of Asian noodles is that they should be $5, it becomes a battle against systemic racism. People are more willing to spend $25 on a really simple pasta dish at an Italian restaurant. By pricing these foods to reflect their value, I’m trying to push the narrative further.”
In light of the political climate, it is increasingly important that immigrant identities are considered part of our collective American identity. This subversion of our pricing systems is something that Angela employs to enact change. She uses these same pricing principles in one of her event series, entitled GUSH. Dimayuga created GUSH in collaboration with Pati Hertling, who is impressively both a practicing lawyer and an art curator, as a party for intersectional, POC, queer, femme-identifying individuals. “My goal for GUSH is inviting people that have never been hosted before. We also like to throw parties in different spaces to sortof decolonize these spaces, and we have what we call “reverse economics” where we charge $5 for queer women/lesbians/non- binary/trans people, $10 for gay men, and then $75 for straight men.” I let out an affirming laugh. “Yeah, the initial reaction is always funny, but what we’re really trying to avoid is what can happen when straight males enter gay or lesbian spaces.”
Dimayuga possesses an intimidating fluency in contemporary issues. Paired with her unbounded creativity, she is a perfect fit for her newly appointed position as Creative Director for the Standard Hotel Group (a job created especially for her, I might add). Between this and GUSH, Angela is devoted to creating spaces of inclusivity and visibility, projects that she envisions and executes in a constant outpouring of vibrant creativity. A beer garden on NYC’s Highline for POC ‘bears.’ An edible bathing suit for Miami swim week. A partnership with the ACLU designing clothing for Art Basel. She has the rare ability to turn intention into action, inspiring others as she blurs the boundaries of art, performance, activism, and cuisine. So, what’s next?
“I think it’s an important direction we’re going in as consumers, guests of these spaces, and leaders. I’m looking forward to this next phase because I’ve been itching for that for years. The food industry and food media needs to change. There’s something just so boring about food porn, or the same chefs we see all the time. There’s something so important about those chefs and the path they forged for us. But there has been this rumbling for change to happen, and I think we’re at the really nascent stages of it.” Considering her ascendant trajectory thus far, which has seen her turn her ambitions into action while shaping narratives of identity, culture, food, and politics along the way, we might not have to wait too long.
Written by Andie Eisen
Photographed by Andy Madeleine
Styled by Noah Diaz
Hair by Kazuto Shimomura
Makeup by Anya Awata