It’s been seven years, and chef Anita Lo is still proud to call the West Village restaurant Annisa, her own. Lo has reigned as head chef, co-owner, and creative mind for the better part of a decade, while serving as consulting chef and partner for the successful (and soon to be nationally expanding) dumpling house, Rickshaw Dumpling Bar. She also found time to promote a calcium-filled diet, assuming a full-fledged milk mustache in the Got Milk? campaign. At Annisa, Arabic for “women” (co-owned by Lo and Jennifer Scism), signature dishes include grilled Australian lamb tenderloin with Szechuan peppercorn, white soybeans and garlic chives, as well as the smoked Berkshire pork loin with millet, swiss chard and gruyere.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What was your first job in food?
Making canapes at
As a second generation Chinese-American and an extensive
education in French cuisine from Columbia University and time spent abroad, how
have you blended the two cuisines?
Columbia was actually just a BA in
French Literature which has perhaps helped me develop a multicultural
perspective on the world and cooking. My technical base is mostly French,
but I bring in influences from anywhere and everywhere.
worked at Bouley – one of NYC’s most well-known restaurants – in its first
year. How did working in a young, highly successful restaurant prepare you
for eventually opening your own place?
Bouley taught me a profound
appreciation of raw ingredients as well as the need for speed and
accuracy. It certainly toughened me, which is necessary for any chef who
will need to work 24/7 when opening a restaurant.
You spent two years
at Mirezi on Lower Fifth Avenue, where you were given two stars by the New
York Times. What was the final push that got you to open your own
Really until then, I had no intention of opening my own place. It
seemed like a lot of headache that didn’t have much to do with cooking. (I
was younger then and lived more in the present…) I realized at Mirezi that
I needed complete creative freedom and I couldn’t wait around for someone to
offer me that.
You were one of the faces for the national Got
Milk? campaign, donning the milk mustache and all. How did that opportunity
arise and what was it like?
A friend of mine and a great chef, Patricia
Williams, had been called to be in that ad, and had suggested I be included
as well. My mother was very proud and still has the poster in her kitchen,
so I get to look at Pat, Marcus and Francois Payard every time I
You opened Annisa in 2000 and are still thriving in 2007. How
have you survived in a city where most restaurants close in their first
Good question! I’ve been lucky with a great team who are passionate
about what they do.
You are a consulting chef and partner for
Rickshaw Dumpling, a dumpling house that you plan to expand
nationally. How did you get involved in this project?
The CEO, Kenny Lao,
knew of my work and approached me. When it came time to open, it fell at a
good time for me, and was a natural fit as far as the concept was
You spent a significant amount of time training in France.
Do you have any desire to open a French restaurant?
Of course; I’d love to
do a little bistro one day.
The presence of exceptional female NYC
chefs is on the rise. How has being a female in a male-dominated industry
affected your career?
I’m not sure, but I feel sometimes that I had to be
more independent. Although I’ve been lucky, I’ve never been showered with
opportunity like some of the other male chefs, but that may or may not have
anything to do with gender. In a way, it has been good to be female from a
media standpoint because you stand out.
Any “off the menu”
dishes we should know about?
I always have a vegetarian entree available in
addition to the one on our menu.
What’s your favorite dish on your
menu, and why?
I don’t really have one, but if pressed, I’d say the skate
with radishes and avocado. It’s a Korean influenced dish that looks at the
combination both raw and cooked.
What’s your least favorite dish
(and yes, you must pick one)?
I have a summer soup on the menu that I was
never sure of. It is a chilled cucumber and honeydew soup garnished with a
stuffed zucchini flower. I ran it as a special (I thought it was good
enough, but not that fabulous), and it got a really good reception so I put
What is your junk food of choice?
Depends on the day. I’m
not a food snob; I love a good hot dog, Cheez Whiz, Philadelphia cheese steak…
Other than your own, what’s your favorite restaurant in
What culinary trend do you most embrace?
That’s a hard one. I’m happy that chefs are more interested in
the environment and sustainability, but I can’t say that that is my focus
What trend do you wish would die already?
room for everything. Diversity is great.
What’s next on the horizon
foryou? Are there any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill
We are expanding Rickshaw Dumpling Bar. In a few weeks our
second location on 8th street between University and Broadway will
open. I’m also working on an Asian Barbecue concept for hopefully a late
fall/early winter opening. I have a beautiful space on Bleecker Street between
7th Avenue South and Grove.
Address: 13 Barrow St., nr. W. 4th St.
Until we eat again,
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