Anita Lo has certainly faced some challenges in life, but she never let them get her down. The previous season one Top Chef Masters contestant has opened restaurants, failed, but then rebuilt even stronger. Today, Anita is the proud owner and chef at Annisa in New York City. Here’s what she had to say about her roller-coaster experience.
Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?
No. I figured that out while studying language in Paris during college. My sister had taken some cooking classes over there, and I had always loved to eat and work with my hands. I fell in love with it.
You studied in Paris, one of the greatest food capitals of the world. What was it like to cook in Paris, compared to the United States?
At the time, there were chefs that didn’t know anything besides French cuisine. I’d have chefs come up to me, show me sushi and say, “Do you know what this is?” I was like, “First of all, that’s Japanese and my family is Chinese.” It’s a lot less multicultural there.
Everyone experiences some setbacks in life. Unfortunately, your restaurant burned down in 2009. What was that like and how did you find the motivation to start over?
It was awful, but there’s nothing you can do about it—you just deal with it. At one point, we thought about just walking away. Because restaurants are really hard, especially small businesses. In New York, it just gets harder every year.
You competed in the first season of Top Chef Masters. What was it like to cook on television as opposed to real life?
It’s obviously a lot harder on television—it’s not how we cook in the restaurant. If something makes it to the menu, you have time to test and tweak it. But you don’t have that luxury of time on television. It was fun in the beginning, by the end of it I was ready to go home.
What’s it like being a female chef in a male dominated industry?
I think it’s more difficult for women than men because we don’t get the same kind of recognition. I don’t think people are throwing money at us, which may be partly from our own inability to ask for it. But I think it also comes from investors who aren’t throwing money at women. On the other hand, sometimes you get more attention, but you’re getting attention because you’re female.
Have you come across any big challenges working in a male dominated industry?
When I was coming up in the industry, there were many problems like hazing. The guys get hazed too, but in a different way. I was sexually harassed on a couple of occasions. A couple of years ago, a cook told me she was working in an all-male kitchen and one of the guys told her she didn’t belong there. I think it’s a cultural problem and people don’t want to call other people out on sexism.
What advice do you have for other women who want to enter the culinary world?
It’s really difficult. It has to be an all-consuming passion or you’re not going to make it. It’s a lot of work with a very low pay in the beginning, and even in the end! It’s not as glamorous as it seems.
Try one of Anita’s beautiful recipes!
Seared Foie Gras with Foie Gras Soup Dumplings
- 1 oz. slice Foie Gras A, deveined
- salt and pepper
- 2 pig feet, split
- 1 pint veal stock
- 5 pints chicken stock
- 1 large stick cinnamon
- 4 pieces star anise
- 2 dried shitake mushrooms
- 2 slices ginger
- soy sauce to taste
- black pepper
- -1 quart balsamic vinegar
- -2 cups Chinese black vinegar
- -5 slices ginger
- -1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- -1 lobe foie gras B, cleaned
- -foie gras scraps
- -salt and pepper
- -2 parts flour
- -1 part boiling water
- -salt and pepper
- -soy oil
- -3 pieces each jicama macedoine
- -1 pinch each scallion top julienne
Make the “soup”:
- Place the pig feet in a pot with the stocks and bring to a boil.
- Skim and add the remaining ingredients and simmer, skimming every so often, until pig feet are soft, about 3 hours.
- Taste and adjust seasonings; you may have to add a little water to dilute the soy.
- Shock and refrigerate until set.
Make the foie mousse:
- Season the foie liberally with salt and pepper and let sit overnight.
- Pack into a terrine mould, cover and place in a hot water bath.
- Cook in a 275 oven about 45 minutes until it just starts to melt and is warm in the center.
- Place all in a food processor and run until smooth.
- Pass through a tamis and repack into the terrine mould. Cover and refrigerate.
Make the vinegar reduction:
- Place the vinegars, the ginger and peppercorns in a saucepot and reduce to a glaze.
- Strain and refrigerate.
Make the dumpling wrappers:
- Mix the salt and flour and add the boiling water.
- Knead until smooth and place in an oiled bowl, covered.
- Allow to rest 30 minutes, then roll to about <1/8” thickness and cut into 3.5” rounds.
Form the dumplings:
- Brush each wrapper with eggwash and place a small square of foie mousse in the center of a wrapper, along with a few pieces jicama and a small dollop of the “soup”.
- Fold in half and crease the top to form half moons.
- Freeze or cook immediately.
- Steam 3 dumplings per order (if frozen, from the frozen state) until puffed.
- In the meantime, season and dredge in wondra the foie gras and sear.
- Decorate plate with the black vinegar reduction and organize the three dumplings on top.
- Top each dumpling with a third of the seared foie gras and place a pinch of the scallion julienne in the center.
- Serve with chopsticks and a Chinese soup spoon so that the diner can experience the juice.