MERIEM BENNANI The first thing I wanted to ask you is, we all have these strong crystallized images in our subconscious, either visual or sensorial. They are kind of like traumas, but in a good way—things that are at the roots of our personal mythologies and have somewhat influenced our practice. I was wondering if you had any transformative moments that feel like starting points for your work as a chef and creative director blending food, nightlife and visual culture?
ANGELA DIMAYUGA I wanted to be a chef ever since I was a child—I was always very sure of it. I was obsessed with cooking shows on PBS, and I would watch Jacques Pépin or Julia Child instead of cartoons.
As a child in a big family—I have 5 brothers and sisters—I had a lot of chores, but my favorite one was helping out my mom or babysitter cook. I think for me food was always a social activity, because we actually never really sat down at the dinner table for a formal, American-style meal—it felt more immigrant family style. There were so many of us, and my dad would work at night sometimes, so my mom would just make a big pile of something and then we would eat it at our leisure. The only times we sat down together to eat was when my mother would say, “We’re making taco salad,” so we’d be all excited and make them together. That’s childhood for me.
I was always building new recipes, and at seven years of age, I already had my “signature dishes.” A formative cookbook I had was this Halloween cookbook called Gross Goodies, which was basically just like nasty weird versions of food. I loved to make “Crusty Belly Buttons”—basically shortbread cookies that you put your thumb in, fill with jam and bake so it looks like a belly button. My older brother’s friends would ask me to make them for when they came over.
MB So at this point you were already cooking for others, not just for you.
AD Yeah, I’ve always wanted to cook for people. I also have this strong memory, or maybe it’s more of a myth, that’s cemented me on my life course. I was around ten and starting to get really bored, feeling layers of depression about being stuck in the suburbs. I was daydreaming a lot, laying face down on my bed in this room that I shared with two of my siblings. One day I had this insane vision, so vivid it felt like I actually lived this. It was this flash moment when I saw myself in the third person, a bird’s-eye view of myself as an adult with a short bob and glasses, driving in my car in a city, and I knew I was a chef. Then it just closed up, and that was it. I was like, “What the fuck was that?!” I became obsessed with it through various stages of my life, it just kept on coming up, and for my whole life I carved out space to become a chef.
It wasn’t a straightforward path. For example, when I was thinking of college at seventeen, I decided wanted to go to culinary school—the best culinary school in the area of San Francisco, which was called the CCA: the California Culinary Academy. I went in for a preliminary interview with my parents, who were super supportive of me doing it, and I remember opening a door to a stage auditorium and seeing a classroom of students wearing chef coats and thinking, “Well, this is dumb.” I remember thinking that it wasn’t for me; none of those people felt like my people.