If Angela Dimayuga was only known to the world as a talented chef a few years back -- when she earned her stripes as the badass cook behind cult-favorite eatery Mission Chinese, known for its innovative, tongue-numbing riffs on Sichuan snacks -- she's since transformed into something of a multidisciplinary artist. In addition to slinging street-food-inspired noshes, she's modeled for Opening Ceremony and Gauntlett Cheng, designed a genderless swimsuit made of recycled plastic bottles for Los Angeles-based label Everybody.World, and brought an impressionistic Rousseau painting to life as a banquet-style feast for a Kenzo runway show in Paris. Accordingly, her ethos as a chef regularly sees her imagining edible experiences at the intersection of art, fashion, nightlife, and politics. In her new role as creative director of food and culture for The Standard (as of spring 2018), she's expanding that philosophy internationally.
"I'm just standing in an alleyway right now," says Dimayuga, laughing, over a crackling call from Mexico City. She's on a last-minute research excursion with the Spanish chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias -- his Bristol restaurants Casamia and Paco Tapas have earned Michelin stars -- whom she brought on to launch a rooftop restaurant at The Standard's King's Cross outpost in London. The pair is on an intimate tour guided by local mezcal expert Niki Nakazawa, the similarly fanciful foodie with an art and publishing background who cofounded Neta, a mezcal brand dedicated to supporting small producers. "The restaurant is going to be Spanish, but also inspired by Mexican cuisine," she explains. "In my last few years at Mission Chinese, I was really interested in working collaboratively with a lot of different types of creatives: scientists, activists, farmers. Once I left, I just continued to do a lot of weird projects."
A five-hour flight home to New York City lands Dimayuga back where her real experiments are brewing. With the surefire confidence of a mad scientist and The Standard, East Village as her petri dish, she refers to her myriad projects as her "toys." As in, she's having lots of fun. "We're building an indoor mushroom farm that's temperature- and humidity-controlled in one of our spaces," she says. "We're doing a fermentation box with a female flavor chemist, Dr. Arielle Johnson, that I love. And the head chef I hired, Max Blachman-Gentile, was somebody I mentored at Mission Chinese back in 2012, who became an excellent experimental breadmaker." But it is with the February 20 relaunch of The Standard, East Village's watering hole, No Bar, that Dimayuga reveals her boldest project to date.
Formerly known as "narcbar," Dimayuga reimagined the haunt as a "new age gay bar." Trading the rainbow flags and kitschy tchotchkes of a typical West Village dive for banquettes upholstered with a custom cowhide print and a cocktail menu dotted with innuendos (one sipper is named "Spill the Tea"), she notes, "I want us to be chic. We deserve nice things." But as a nightlife mainstay herself -- Dimayuga throws a roving party called GUSH that centers lesbian and nonbinary femmes -- she knows that, beyond any design tweaks she could make, queer and safer spaces are all about the folks who occupy them. With carefully curated programming and deliberate language about whom the space is for, she hopes to manifest a holdout where "the only rule is that it is inclusive and that it is a safe space for all types of folks."
To that end, Dimayuga already has a number of programmatic collaborations in the works. In addition to diversified drag performances and regular Drag Race viewings, the space will feature rotating art installations, including a forthcoming exhibition of Dachi Cole's digital illustrations of "Black, gay cowboys." It will also host club nights akin to those mined from Brooklyn's ravey underground. She cites Papi Juice and Bubble_T, both parties that prioritize queer people of color, as particular collaborators.
"I always worked my ass off in the kitchen," Dimayuga says, and she stresses the importance of maintaining safer nightlife spaces where queer folks can just be, together. "But then on the weekends, on my days off, or after service, it was always important for me to connect with my chosen family."