2009 hasn’t been the best year for chef Anita Lo. Her Asian barbecue spot, Bar Q, as well as the Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on Eighth Street shuttered this year. And just this summer, a fire shut down Annisa, Lo’s highly noted, Asian-fusion restaurant in Greenwich Village. But Anita Lo’s not one to call it quits. She proved that recently when she appeared on Top Chef Masters. She’s forging ahead with a cookbook, plans to reopen Annisa late fall, and even leading culinary tours through South Africa.
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You were recently eliminated from Top Chef Masters following the buffet lunch challenge. What went wrong during that challenge? Is it different to cook on tv or are you not thinking about the cameras while you’re in the kitchen?
Coming from a small, fine dining restaurant, buffets are not something I do very often and they don’t really speak to my strengths as a chef. And then, yes, lots of stuff went wrong! I was unfamiliar with Restaurant Depot and their products, we fell behind in prep, etc.…not to mention the challenge’s obstacles… That wasn’t the most fun challenge for me for obvious reasons, but taping TCM and cooking with all those great chefs was an overall wonderful experience. And yes, while on set, I certainly had an awareness of the cameras, and cooking in my own kitchen is a much more controlled environment, but in both scenarios, the food always ends up on stage.
Annisa was sadly shut down due to a fire. When do you expect to reopen the restaurant? When you do, will it be the same menu or a new Annisa of sorts? What can we look forward to?
We hope to re-open in November, but it is hard to say with any certainty with any restaurant construction. There will be some tweaks to the space, but it will be the same feel, (only fresher!). The menu will be different as it always has changed with the seasons, but the signatures will remain.
You’ve had a lot
of great years and significant success. 2009 has not been the greatest
year for you with Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on 8th Street closing, followed by Bar Q, and the fire at Annisa. How do you bounce back from those type of setbacks? All we can do at annisa is climb out of this (although I wish we were bouncing!) Our entire staff is waiting to come back as are our regulars, and I can’t wait to get back to work. Bar Q was unfortunate as was Rickshaw 8th, but we’ve learned from our mistakes and Rickshaw is a stronger company overall as a result.
The Rickshaw Dumpling cart is doing phenomenally well. Can we expect more trucks, perhaps in other cities as well?
I certainly hope for more trucks, as well as more locations. We are focusing on New York at present, but would like to branch out to other cities in the future.
You’ve always cooked ahead of the trends, serving foie gras soup dumplings in soup as well as scallops and uni years before other chefs had put such exotic combinations on the menu. Where do you get your inspiration?
Thank you! I get my inspiration from everywhere—from ingredients, travel, childhood, other chefs…
Other than your own, where is your favorite place to get dumplings in New York City?
I love Dim Sum Go-Go, and I sometimes buy frozen pork and leek dumplings at the pork store on Mulberry just south of Canal.
We hear you’ll be teaming up with the tour company Tour de Forks, to lead a culinary journey through South Africa’s bush meats, wines, and Malaysian curries. How did you get involved in the first place and why South Africa? Would you ever consider opening your own African restaurant?
I met the proprietors of the Tour de Forks, Lisa and Melissa in 2003, when I won one of their tours to Australia through a lamb contest. We became friends from our shared love of food and travel, and one day they asked me if I’d like to help lead a tour. I chose South Africa because of its great wines and culinary reputation, and because I heard great things about Cape Town from a South African friend I had met in Paris in the 80’s. I wouldn’t rule out an African venue as there are many familiar flavors from my childhood in Cape Malay cuisine, but I have my hands pretty full right now.
Rickshaw and Annisa are such distinct ventures. How would you describe your culinary style?
Seasonal, contemporary American. I think it is a personal style that is multicultural and aims for clean, distinct flavors and balance.
What culinary trends do you see on the horizon? Any that you wish would just die already?
Hopefully, people will continue to become more and more sophisticated, knowledgeable and open minded eaters. I am an omnivore and welcome all new cuisines.
Do you usually cook up quick, cheap meals at home, or do you eat out more often?
I love to eat out and try new restaurants when I’m in the city. When I’m at my house on Long Island, I always cook–mostly much more simply than I do at annisa, but sometimes I splurge on some luxury ingredients or more complicated preparations.
Any new projects in the future? A new restaurant concept or cookbook, perhaps? Spill the beans…
Yes! I am furiously working on a cookbook but it is still in its early stages. And I’m concentrating my efforts on annisa right now, but am not ruling out any new projects in the farther-off future.