Owners of the small, fine-dining restaurants that Manhattan is known for are getting worried about rising costs. “It’s bleak,” chef and restauranteur Anita Lo says. “The New York City government doesn’t seem to care about small businesses.” Lo is the owner and executive chef of Annisa (“women” in Arabic), a contemporary American restaurant that has been an institution in Greenwich Village for 15 years. A first generation Chinese-American, Lo frequently travels around the world for inspiration and sometimes appears on TV shows such as Top Chef Masters to exhibit her culinary chops. We talked to Lo about her favorite cities to visit, the plight of restauranteurs in Manhattan and why she plays “lite” pop in her kitchen.
What is currently inspiring your menu?
All my travels. I’ve had a great year of overseas trips. I was in Italy, Israel, India and Mexico this past year, and one way or another those experiences will manifest themselves in the Annisa menu. I’m still plugging away, cooking things I find delicious and interesting.
What is your favorite city to visit and eat in?
Tokyo. But there’s arguments for many other cities. I love the attention to detail and the fanatical worship of ingredients in season.
Many restauranteurs are being pushed out of Manhattan due to rising rent prices and other costs. How do you see the New York dining scene changing over the next few years?
Yes, it’s bleak. The New York City government doesn’t seem to care about small businesses, especially small fine dining. Thus Manhattan is being taken over by large restaurant corporations. It’s grow or die. And you’ll see more of the no tipping/administration fee policies that Amanda Cohen pioneered at Dirt Candy.
Your wine list at Annisa features many women vinters and you often talk about the plight of women in the restaurant industry. How can women chefs and chefs of color get more recognition for their contributions to the culinary world?
My mother was a doctor at a time when there were incredibly few. She made ¼ of what my father made for the same job in the beginning. We’ve come a long way, but still have so far to go. We need to change the cultural landscape that overlooks us. We’ll need to continue to ask questions and keep the conversation going until we have a majority asking themselves those same questions. And those in media must understand that they have a greater responsibility in this.
What kind of music do you listen to when you cook?
We listen to a lot of lite pop (and I mean “lite” not “light”) at the restaurant. It keeps things calm. At home I love Macy Gray, the Talking Heads, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Les Rita Mitsouko…
Alyson Sheppard writes about restaurants and bars for Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep