The chef and creative Angela Dimayuga has many interests. Here are just some of them: nightlife culture, fermentation (she used to make Kombucha out of her apartment back in 2007), hot springs, the humanities, history. She’s sort of a history buff. So when The Standard hotel’s chief executive officer Amar Lalvani chose Dimayuga to be the creative director of food and culture for the East Village location in 2017, she dove headlong into the annals of the boutique hotel chain.
“I’m interested in the fact that it’s south of Cooper Union, that it’s just west of hardcore East Village, which has historical roots in punk and the HIV epidemic,” Dimayuga says, sitting in a wood and leather chair at Café Standard. Her hair is dyed red and slightly grown out, and she makes unwavering eye contact with whomever she’s speaking to. “[The Standard] restaurants were also always catering to nightlife. The locations in Los Angeles were 24-hour restaurants for quite some time.
“As far as what the food spaces are now, I’m being allowed to completely rewrite that.”
As creative director of food and culture — a bit of a sprawling title, but one created just for her — Dimayuga is tasked with “evolving spaces that need attention, or new spaces for new openings,” she says. This includes working on the opening of the London location; cutting the ribbon on her new No Bar, a gay bar in the former Narcbar space at the hotel that bowed in late February, and bringing on a cast of collaborators to contribute to The Standard East Village’s new offerings.
The collaborators include Max Blachman-Gentile, the experimental baker-chef who’s heading up the new bread program at the hotel and creating a new menu. (“He’s making a naturally fermented sourdough loaf that’s inspired by this Jewish dish called kasha varnishkes,” Dimayuga says animatedly. “It’s pasta with buckwheat and is often cooked with chicken fat; so he’s cooking a buckwheat loaf of bread with chicken fat.”) He and Dimayuga are also teasing out a concept to hold a farmer’s market in the hotel’s garden. The same bread served on plates at Narcissa, the hotel’s restaurant, will be sold at the market.
Then there are Andrew Carter and Adam DeMartino, the co-owners of Smallhold Farms — a company that designs and builds small-scale, indoor mushroom farms. Carter and DeMartino installed a mushroom farm at Mission Chinese while Dimayuga worked there as executive chef, but the 15-foot farm that will live on top of the liquor cabinet at Café Standard is a whole different field.
“The Standard Hotel’s unit has advanced cooling components inside of it and different lighting that allows it to actually grow over 10 different species of mushrooms,” DeMartino says during a phone call with Carter. “From a technical perspective, it grows more of the cultivatable mushroom spectrum [in terms of] variety.”
Plus, the two can cull huge amounts of data from the farm, which is enabled with sensors that follow the climate and health of the mushrooms.
“It’s connected through a cellular network,” Carter explains. “We can tell a lot about the mushrooms themselves without actually being there.”
The mushrooms, which will be grown inside a futuristic-looking case lit by blue fluorescence, will also be sold at the farmer’s market — and items on the room service menu will contain the fungi, too.
“We can produce mushrooms in-house [for which] we’re not using cellophane packaging, we’re able to save on costs because we’re not importing mushrooms from some other place that’s being trucked down,” Dimayuga explains. “On the chef’s side, we have access to the freshest mushroom. Because even if I buy mushrooms at the Union Square green market for $40 a pound, by the time I transport them here, they’ve already lost a lot of their integrity from just being in a paper bag. A quarter of the mushrooms we grow we want to sell to the immediate community. If you come to buy bread, you might want to buy these mushrooms in pre-weighed-out bags.”
Lastly, there is Dimayuga’s longtime friend, Arielle Johnson, who she brought on to provide knowhow for the fermentation box. The two women met at the Copenhagen restaurant Noma, where Johnson functioned as the flavor chemist and in-house Ph.D. (She studied at MIT, then became a director’s fellow at the university’s Media Lab.) They nerded out over a love for fermentation — making yogurt, kombucha, miso.
“A couple years ago, I was starting to work at MIT,” Johnson says. “Angela would come down to Cambridge and we’d adapt some of the control tech that other people in my group were developing. You had to make a small form factor prototype fermentation box. When she started working at The Standard, it was like, ‘We need to put something in here so that the chefs can explore the potential for fermentation with New York state and local ingredients.’”
The Standard will play host to a large, stand-up refrigerator size fermentation box that will serve as a proofer for Max’s bread, as well as the starting place for sake, miso, soy sauce and the alcohol amazake.
“I can apply my scientific training to cultural, gastronomic and creative questions,” Johnson adds. “And it’s actually because of the different perspective Angela has and the artistic experiences and sensibility — it could be easy to write her off as not seeming that way, but she is one of the smartest, if not the smartest, chefs I work with.”
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