Recipes as Archive: Angela Dimayuga
"When I look at a Filipino recipe now, I can see or learn about the cultural moment."
We spoke to three chefs based in London, Johannesburg and New York City for whom cooking and communion are closely linked. Here, we speak to Angela Dimayuga about how histories are held in recipes, architecture’s influence on what we eat, and making food as an act of love.
Food, like spaces, can hold significant memories. In an interview with dezeen earlier this summer, Sumayya Vally, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion architect said, “Recipes are such important archives in telling us where we come from and how we’ve evolved.” Vally’s design for the pavilion is based on past and present places of meeting, organising and belonging across several London neighbourhoods. These locations include cafes, bookshops, community centres, hair salons – and of course, restaurants. Inspired by Vally’s long-term interest in recipes as maps for human evolution, we asked the three chefs to also share a recipe that reminds them of their community.
Angela Dimayuga is a Filipino-American chef and author based in New York City. As Executive Chef at Mission Chinese Food, Dimayuga made a name for herself through her experimental dishes and collaborations with artists. Following her departure in 2017, she joined The Standard as Creative Director for Food & Culture where she worked on a range of multidisciplinary projects fusing the worlds of food, art and nightlife. Her first cookbook Filipinx: Heritages Recipes from the Diaspora comes out this month.
Can recipes hold memory? When is your earliest food memory and how has this memory informed your practice?
Recipes absolutely hold memory. Working on my cookbook inspired by my Filipino heritage, recipes were one of the deepest dives into my own history I’ve experienced to date. When making dishes to honor my grandmother’s recipes, I needed to access taste and sense memories of her seasoning, and the textures I loved about her dishes. I also made dishes I loved as a kid, some I had not had in over 25 years. This was an extremely emotional process, and it ensured that these memories of flavor, fragrance, texture, and experience are central to who you are, and where you came from.
Some of my early food memories relate to being naughty about what I liked, and what made sense to my child palate. I remember probably being 3-4 and scooping strawberry Smuckers jam straight into my mouth, or hiding behind my bed and sneaking extra Flintstones vitamins because they were basically candy. I also remember getting in lots of trouble and pretending to fall asleep at the table in protest of having to finish my dinner. I would only want to eat the chicken skin from my fried chicken drumstick. These memories in particular hold the truth that food is pleasure!
How does your community influence your practice, and how can food act as a catalyst for self-exploration and community building?
Making food is an act of love. I love learning about people’s dietary restrictions and making a brand new dish that I’m proud of because I creatively wouldn’t have put those ingredients together otherwise. This type of care and troubleshooting is exciting and mind-expanding to me. Making these dishes becomes a bridge to accessing my own skillset and catalog of flavours and texture combinations, and then it’s a gift to bringing those people together in a shared space at the table.
I know you travel a lot. Does the architectural design of cities influence your work? If so, how?
Architectural design is often based on when the city or town had an influx of money, prosperity or trade, or lack of this! The spaces that are made because of this influence the dining culture. Be it at an old fishing village in Milos, Greece, or Stykkishólmur peninsula, Iceland these towns can be frozen in time, and offer traditional food offerings at these small ports or old fishing homes. In Oaxaca City, food is often enjoyed in a little plaza to take in airflow, with dishes made from the recipes of generations of local abuelas (Spanish for grandmothers). These unique dining experiences influence me simply in wanting to access delicious produce, or fresh fish for example, and letting those flavors shine. Or in metropolitan cities, tasting and accessing global food and drink like natural wine through contact with specialists passionate about sharing a specific product like hard-to-access ingredients and getting to homogenise them in dish creation is also exciting to me. Another takeaway from large metropolitan places is the access to migrants that serve their home cuisine because of their pride and willingness to share and connect with others.
Your work collaborating with artists to create nightlife and culinary experiences fosters novel connections within the queer community but how can we build bridges of cross-cultural understanding and respect that last beyond the dinner table?
I think that the dialogue, memories, and connections made in these spaces begin a curiosity of cross-cultural understanding and respect. We seek to learn as humans, and when we make meaningful human connections in these ephemeral spaces, it allows for growth and change and willingness to continue conversation and exploration with these new bonds. Magic begets magic!
How do you begin to unpack the complicated and incomplete Filipino histories through recipes?
That wonder and research is really compelling to me. When I look at a Filipino recipe now, I can see or learn about the cultural moment access to these ingredients came about via foodways, diaspora and colonization. For example, learning from an Indigenous tattoo practitioner, Lane Wilcken, that one of our most popular dishes, adobo, is actually an Indigenous dish that utilized vinegar to preserve in stewed dishes. It was given the name adobo by early Spanish colonizers. Learning of early trading via the Manila galleon trade route meant that Filipinos brought coconut to Mexico, and Mexico brought mangoes to the Philippines – both prominent ingredients in our cuisines. Halo-Halo likely our most popular dessert made of crushed ice, milk, and syrup preserved fruits and jellies originates from Japanese kakigori, during their occupation resulting in the Philippines first ice plant in the early 1900s. These bits of research become a historical map to knowing where ingredients came from and when!
How does the recipe you have chosen act as an archive for your own cultural experience?
This drink brings together my love for generously used coconut milk in my home cuisine but extends it to a time where I picked up my stride in working with artists on concept dinners. The drink is not traditional at all, but Filipino because I made it, and references my cultural upbringing in what I think is a reverential way. It’s delicious on its own and would pair well with many tropical cuisines. It is a signifier of my place as a member of the Filipino-American diaspora in the communities I am a part of.
Recipe: Angela’s Coconut Milk Spritz “Reverse Aging Cocktail”
I developed this cocktail in 2018, for a project in collaboration with Meriem Bennani for the Biennale de I’Image en Mouvement. One of my favorite artists, Meriem was working on a sci-fi film called On the Caps which was loosely based on an idea that in the future teleportation devices replace airports, and those that get caught “illegally teleporting” would get sent to a fictional prison island between New York and Morocco. I cooked a dinner that might come from this dystopian future and served this drink with the idea that spirulina or chlorella (which comes from the sea), salt, and coconut might be available on a desolate island. I originally called this a “reverse aging” cocktail to play with some themes depicted in her sci-fi. In Filipino cuisine, all parts of the coconut are used from the shell to making coconut shell charcoal for grilling, husks for rope, coconut water for hydration, and coconut meat to make desserts and coconut milk.
I liked using coconut milk in this drink as a little splash you would add milk to tea, but the reaction to the foaming club soda creates this light “soda float” effect and foams more to create an amazing mouthfeel. The large amount of lime zest helps with the balancing of flavors offering a limey bitter tone. I like serving this drink both as is or alcoholic. It can be made in small batches for intimate gatherings as an extremely thoughtful and refreshing or offering for large groups. The dashes of salt give it this refreshing and hydrating flavor profile that reminds me of getting quenched by a sports drink like Gatorade!
Flake salt to taste
Optional: 2 pinches spirulina
1.5 oz vodka
1 oz coconut milk
1 oz simple syrup
Splash club soda or to taste
- Using a microplane, zest half of a lime, and set aside. Using pressure, use the palm of your hand to roll the lime on a clean kitchen service. This helps prepare the citrus for juicing. Cut the lime in half.
- On a small plate, mix salt, one pinch of lime zest, and a pinch of chlorella, mix with a spoon to combine.
- In a collins glass, rocks glass or your favorite glass, moisten the edge of the glass with a half of lime juice and dip half of the rim into the green salt, and set aside.
- Transfer the remaining lime zest to a cocktail shaker, and the vodka, 1 oz lime juice (or the juice of 1 lime), coconut milk, simple syrup and another small pinch of salt and spirulina. Fill the shaker with cubed ice, and use the other end of the cocktail shaker to seal the shaker shut.
- Shake vigorously for about 1 minute. Fill the cocktail glass with cubed ice, and using a cocktail strainer, strain the cocktail onto the ice in your glass. Add a splash of club soda to the top, and serve.
Angela Dimayuga is a New York City-based chef, creative, and cultural tastemaker. She has been recognized as a Zagat 30 under 30 recipient, awarded Best Chef by New York Magazine, and a James Beard Rising Star Chef finalist. Uniquely crafted for her, she recently held a global executive position as Creative Director of Food & Culture for The Standard Hotels, and before that, executive chef of Mission Chinese Food NY. She is currently a New York Times, Food & Cooking contributor and writer, associate artist and culinary curator at Performance Space New York, culinary advisor for the Lower East Side Girls Club, and advocate for marginalized voices. Her debut cookbook, releasing October 26th, 2021, Filipinx: Heritages Recipes from the Diaspora includes 100 recipes, narrative-driven personal stories, and a celebration of her ancestral cuisine from her point of view as a professional chef.