Episode 59: A Spotlight on Anita Lo

Episode 59: A Spotlight on Anita Lo

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We talked to Michelin-starred Chef Anita Lo about everything–from her storied career, her experiences as an Asian female Chef, her new cookbook “SOLO: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One”, to what’s next.

We start from the beginning–-how did Anita get into food? Anita credits her family for her food obsession. She really fell in love with her life’s pursuit while she was studying in Paris, where she enrolled in some cooking classes, made her decision to take it up professionally after graduation and never looked back. We learned that she didn’t initially want to open a restaurant (because it looks insane!), but her desire to pursue her own creative freedom in the medium overrode her logic (and we’re sure happy that it did!)

At Annisa, which she ran for 17 years, she got to bring influences from all over. But critics who don’t know her well, remember her from her Pan Asian days, or have a hard time seeing past the Asian French fusion idea of Anita—even after 20 years.

I think people just want to think in boxes and I think they have a hard time understanding what contemporary American is.
— Anita Lo having to deal with critics pigeon-holing her

Anita loved Annisa, but she has no regrets closing it. As she put it, “It’s a restaurant. People liken that to a small child that will never grow up.” LOL. The city and financial pressures that caused her to close the restaurant is a complicated systematic problem. The city needs to cherish its robust dining landscape. How do we do that? Anita calls out that we need to control the real estate owners. Real estate prices are getting ridiculous. People are buying up apartments and not living in them. They’re not bringing anything back to the economy. That all needs to be regulated in an intelligent way. What’s happening right now is clearly not working. Positive change is doable, but we need the people in charge listening and taking action. In the meantime, what is Anita excited about? It’s the Asian food scene! “It seems that all the new restaurants I’m excited about are all Asian. There’s a lot of new Chinese restaurants coming to the East Village. There’s a ton of high end Japanese restaurants. And I love that!” 

We talked about how gender is in the public discourse now. But little has changed, there’s still a long way to go for women who get overlooked by the media, by investors, or get pigeon holed.

There’s clearly a lot of people still in power where their minds haven’t changed at all. I would be loathe to say that things have really changed.
— Why Anita Lo talks about these issues whenever she gets the chance

Don’t miss “The Heat” documentary where Anita is filmed talking about women in food. It just released at the IFC documentary film festival and will be coming to other theaters soon!

For the newly minted, particularly female Chefs joining the arena, Anita has some solid advice.

Don’t ever let anyone else’s idea of what you can do hold you back. You’ve got to believe in yourself, and you’ve got to be tenacious. You need to make things happen for yourself.
— Anita Lo reinforces 'don’t ever give up’

Things in this industry aren’t easy. After the fire at Annisa, it seemed insurmountable to rebuild the restaurant. But Anita took it in stride. “I’ve just grown up to endure. It’ll pass.” Struggle through it a bit, and hang on.

Anita recently came out with a new cookbook: SOLO: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One. We asked why she decided on cooking solo? It started with a good pun. She was brainstorming with her editor and they had a bunch of ideas where her last name “Lo” was in the title. (I do hope the sLOw braising and LO cal ones end up getting published). The solo one stuck especially as a cook with a hectic schedule, Anita had to take care of herself. And there are just so many joys to cooking solo—you get to cater to your daily craving changes, eat something fresh and different every day, and you get to do it however you want, in any way you please, because no one else is watching. Although, if you have company, you can easily adjust her recipes. As Anita put it, “it’s much easier to multiply than to divide”.

Tune in to also hear about Anita’s take on her experiences in TV on Top Chef, what she did in her year off after closing Annisa, how you can take a trip with Anita, what she cooks the most these days, and what other projects are on the horizon. We’re really excited to cook from her new cookbook. And because she draws influences from all over, you can find a recipe to curb every craving.

Episode 60: Fusion is Not the F-word

Episode 60: Fusion is Not the F-word

Episode 58: A New Take on Chinese Takeout ft. Junzi Kitchen and TOMORROW

Episode 58: A New Take on Chinese Takeout ft. Junzi Kitchen and TOMORROW