In the kitchen with Chef Anita Lo
As the sole owner of the West Village’s Annisa, many of chef Anita Lo’s daily responsibilities take her outside the kitchen. She must order the ingredients, check the inventory and pay the bills ... not to mention the endless dance to avoid disasters.
“I have to put out a lot of fires,” she said.
In 2009, an actual electrical fire occurred in the kitchen, forcing Annisa to close for nine months. The 54-seat eatery reopened in 2010 to strong reviews and packed houses (reservations are a must!) amid a newfound fame for Lo, who appeared on the first season of “Top Chef Masters.”
Lo’s modern American cuisine is inventive, though she uses the traditional French techniques in which she was trained. The menu changes seasonally — currently it includes barbecued squid with Thai basil and peanuts, Long Island duck with cashews and papaya and a tower of caramelized banana and peanut butter with coconut sauce. The space is clean and spare but distinctly warm.
Lest you think she’s not involved with the food, each dish on the menu is created by the 45-year-old Lo, a West Village resident. And every night at 6 p.m. or so, she joins the line in the kitchen.
Despite long, busy days, Lo said can’t see herself doing anything else.
“I can’t dress up, and I’m not a morning person,” she laughed.
Kicking off the day
Lo arrives at Annisa — which means “women” in Arabic — between 12:30 and 2:30, though she works at home beforehand. She usually starts her day at the restaurant by organizing the food bills and making sure all the ingredients she’s ordered have arrived. (The day we followed her, the zucchini blossoms never arrived.)
It’s often 4:30 before Lo gets around to eating. And then it’s a staff meal cooked by one of the restaurant’s culinary interns. (Roast chicken with lemon and thyme, Parmesan broccoli and couscous was on the menu the day we visited.)
Throughout the day, Lo responds to calls and emails on her Blackberry. Some are personal — she’s in the process of buying a fishing boat on Long Island — and some are professional: She’s been gathering back-cover quotes for her forthcoming cookbook, due out in the fall.
Taking it all in stride
Lo and her staff have grown accustomed to cameras following them around, but she laughs at the common misconception that being a chef is glamorous.
Lo checks stock in the walk-in fridge almost every day and orders food about two or three times a week. If something’s missing, she’ll usually get it. “We’re a small restaurant, and we don’t have a forager,” she said as she cycled over to Chelsea Market for chives, zucchini blossoms and snail plates.
Lo and her staff cook out of a tiny NYC-style kitchen, where she “can see everything.” Her sous chef, Danny Wang, agreed that while a small kitchen has challenges — there are usually between four and six people working at once — it makes them more efficient. “Everyone helps each other,” he said.
When she’s not working, Lo enjoys dining out. “It’s important to know what’s going on in the industry,” she said. She also spends time at her country home in East Moriches, Long Island, where she likes to pick up farm-fresh produce and do some planting and fishing of her own.
Annisa is located at 13 Barrow St., near Bleecker St. (212-741-6699).