Annisa Chef Anita Lo Considers Her Legacy: "What's the Story of Me As a Chef?"
Anita Lo had a stellar restaurant upbringing -- she worked under David Bouley, Guy Savoy, Michel Rostang, and David Waltuck at Chanterelle before she took a turn running the burners at Mirezi. But in 2000, she was craving creative control, and so she and her then-partner Jennifer Scism decided to strike out on their own, and they scoured Tribeca and the West Village for spaces, eventually landing on Barrow Street. The pair erected Annisa (13 Barrow Street, 212-741-6699) "on a dime," says Lo, and they opened the doors to an eatery built on the chef's personal style of food.
The first years were strong, says the chef, but press started petering out in 2003 and 2004. "It was scary; I thought we were going to close," Lo recalls. Instead, she landed on the first season of Iron Chef America, which transformed the West Village eatery into an international destination.
In the years that followed, Annisa grew into an iconic New York restaurant, and the dining room was consistently packed until July 4, 2009 when it caught fire -- quite literally. The kitchen erupted into flames thanks to faulty wiring, destroying the cooking space and burning through the back wall of the front of the house. Thankfully, an upstairs neighbor got the fire department there quickly and saved the building, but becuase of the soot and water damage, the restaurant was totaled. And the rebuilding process came close to finishing the spot off for good. "My lease was running out, and there was no way I was going to rebuild if we didn't sign a new lease," Lo says. "I thought we lost it on three occasions. And the insurance took forever for us to get paid. It was just a fiasco."
The doors reopened in 2010, though, and Lo says since then, the restaurant's had its best years yet -- and the chef has cemented her place among this city's culinary gatekeepers.
In this interview, the chef considers her legacy and weighs in on what keeps her going, why the broader women chef issue is important to address, and why the health department's grading system is a pressing issue for the industry.
Up next, Lo talks about why it's important to talk about women in the industry.