Last week, two of New York's most fearless pioneers—Mission Chinese Food and Opening Ceremony—came together for one glorious dinner to celebrate the kickoff of New York Fashion Week. The decadent 13-course dinner was devised by MCF executive chef Angela Dimayuga, with proceeds from the event going to Edible Schoolyard NYC. We spoke to Angela about how the dinner came about, and how she ended up holding Spike Jonze like a baby.
The conception of this party happened very naturally. Earlier this summer, I was hanging out with Humberto Leon—the co-founder of Opening Ceremony—and his family upstate. He has this really beautiful home on Lake Oscawana, and we usually go up there and just cook and swim in the lake and hang out.
Whenever I'm up there, I just get really excited about cooking what's in their pantry, what's in their freezer, or what we can just get at the big supermarket a ten-minute drive away.
We decided to just throw a dinner together at the store. One of my friends, Alex, is from Paris, but he made a Senegalese dish because he grew up in Africa. It was a braised chicken dish that had loads of onions. The sauce was what made it really interesting—it was a mustard-based sauce with a lot of lemon and lime and coconut milk. It was this creamy, acidic, really bright thing.
I made a tea rice. It's just jasmine rice cooked in a rice cooker. In another pan I toasted black breakfast tea and ground it up into a fine powder. I dumped that out after I toasted the tea—just until it was fragrant—and then in that same pan I took butter and simmered finely minced white onions. So super-soft and sweet, but really buttery. The tea sounds like it might be intense, but it was really subtle. It was more about the scent. Toasted pine nuts went in there as well. Then I made some pan-roasted cauliflower with it.
Lastly, we made a sundae in a papaya. Humberto had picked out two ice creams already. Two creamy things—pistachio and butter pecan, or something like that. And then I picked out a peach sorbet. I took half of a papaya, and then we put the ice cream and sorbet in it. Someone else picked out those "Oreo Thins" and we ended up putting them on top of the ice cream. It was just really cute.
Once we got all of our dishes on one plate, we noticed that it was all monochromatic. It ended up being this white-and-brown dinner—it was perfectly nuanced. We were playing Janet Jackson, and the music was perfect.
That's how this all started, this Opening Ceremony dinner at Mission Chinese.
The plans for the party rolled around, and it was super-stressful. We planned everything really last-minute. Two days before the event, we thought we might have to cancel it. Because all of this happened so casually, we kind of thought that maybe everything else would be seamless, but it ended up being very difficult.
But in the back of my mind I knew that it was going to turn out well. The major things that we wanted to get done for the party ended up happening. We wanted to collaborate with Humberto and Carol Lim, the other co-founder of Opening Ceremony, and replicate the Chinese food that they ate growing up. We definitely wanted it to feel "luxe Chinese," so we got pink tablecloths for all the tables, and really simple rose arrangements for each table: two red roses, and baby's breath, which is something that we did at noma.
The baby's breath was a big deal. Back when we were opening the first Mission Chinese in New York, and we were making that lightboard that we had in the window, we staged all that food that looked like a blown-out Chinese takeout menu. I demanded baby's breath for that shoot but nobody could find it. That was always a big point of contention, because we never got it for that lightboard. For this, I had to have it, and we got it.
I also had this idea that I wanted to have a keyboardist or pianist in the front room. At the last moment, I was able to coordinate a singer and a pianist for the cocktail hour, and they performed a lot of classic loungy, jazzy songs by Cole Porter and stuff. They threw in a couple of contemporary pop songs by Whitney Houston and Björk, too.
The menu ended up being really fun. We did a bunch of Mission Chinese classics, so it ended up being 13 courses. Humberto and Carol suggested a few things that they wanted us to include, like flowering chives, so we did a flowering chive with scallop XO sauce.
And they wanted a sweet and sour pork dish—I did pork belly that was battered in masa, so it was super crunchy, and then I made a sweet and sour sauce. Instead of using red food coloring and sugar and corn syrup, I got white peaches from the farmer's market and braised them down to a pulp, almost like a jam. I then finished that sauce with pickled beet juice and hibiscus tea, to give it that pink flavoring and also that acidity. I added some white vinegar, too. The dish just ended up being glazed in that sauce, with typical Chinese-American accompaniments like pineapple and white onions.
Then they asked me to do an egg roll, so I used really puffy wonton skins and japchae, a Korean sweet potato noodle, on the inside, with ground chicken, mirepoix, and a braised pepper jelly. It was lots of whimsical, super-silly dishes.
The last course was a prime rib. We wanted to do it wedding-style, where there's a private roast beef carving station. We had this whole prime rib that we smoked for six hours and then finished in a wood oven. We pushed our prime rib cart over into this brick arc that we have that overlooks the lofted area to the bar downstairs.
It was like a showcase, and we carved it at the table and then doled it out with jus and a horseradish cream made with kefir. Everyone was freaking out and feeling so full but wanting to eat more—typical feelings when you get a large meal at Mission Chinese.
Oh, and we ended up doing a papaya with shaved ice, which now I do at the restaurant for friends. So it was just full circle.
Humberto got a lot of their old friends together for the event, and Carol really made it happen for us in the end. We sold out and all the tables were filled. Humberto even brought his mom, Wendy, who I ended up being practically best friends with.
I've also become friends with Spike Jonze because he lives next door to me, but he's also a regular at Mission Chinese. There was one point where I was taking a group photo with Humberto, Jessica Alba, and Spike Jonze. In one of the photos, Spike was carrying me. I decided in the next photo that I wanted to carry him in my arms like a baby. Wendy was saying, "Look at Angela, she's so strong!" It was really sweet.
In the last hours of the party, it really felt like it was my party. I felt like it was my birthday or my bat mitzvah. Or my wedding, or my whatever. My dream situation. And it was so fun because everyone was so supportive of it.
Everybody took roses home. We were throwing rose petals around the restaurant, and it just felt really good, like, "We won! We did it!" There were rose petals everywhere—indicators of a successful party.