Solo | Anita Lo
By Anita Lo
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room table talking to cookbook authors.
Anita Lo: Hi. My name is Anita Lo, and I am the author of Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One.
Suzy Chase: Eater named Solo the 2018 Cookbook of the Year. That is fantastic. Congratulations.
Anita Lo: Thank you so much.
Suzy Chase: "I've been dumped almost as many times as I've been in relationships, and I can count those on less than two hands." Most people wouldn't kick off a cookbook with such a personal confession. What does this book and dining alone mean to you?
Anita Lo: Well, I was hoping that it would make people feel less alone. I was hoping to try to remove some of the stigma around eating by yourself, because it is a fact of life, and cooking for yourself, for that matter. Yeah.
Suzy Chase: It is. I always feel funny about going to a restaurant alone, but then I think no one's looking at you, no one cares.
Anita Lo: Yeah, I mean especially in New York City, at least, and even when I'm traveling. I mean, a lot of times, you're traveling by yourself for work or whatever, and you have to eat alone. That's just a fact of life, so yeah. It could be funny. It's just there's a lot of comedy skits around eating by yourself. I think I remember watching SNL back in the early days, and there was some sort of skit about a lonely person coming to a restaurant and the hostess yelling out, "A party of one, a party of one," so that's why I included that in my book.
Suzy Chase: You say food is culture and identity. Where did you get the inspiration for these recipes?
Anita Lo: A lot of it's my travel. A lot of it is how I grew up, so it's just some of the stuff that I love to eat, so it ... yeah, that have become part of my identity.
Suzy Chase: You also like the meals to always be balanced. What does that really mean?
Anita Lo: Balance, for me, means to always include a vegetable, a little bit of starch, some protein. It means to have that sort of balance. I think there's sort of the weekly balance of having different flavors, not always eating the same thing. I think it is also sort of a general balance of eating healthy things and eating things that you feel like you just crave. Yeah, and I think balance of flavors is very important. Just for deliciousness, I think things need a certain amount of salt for ... and that is subjective, sort of acid to fat, et cetera, balance of textures, crunch to smooth, et cetera.
Suzy Chase: After 17 years, you closed our West Village neighborhood favorite Michelin-starred restaurant, Annisa, and not for the reasons most of us thought, so tell us why.
Anita Lo: It's certainly been getting harder to run a small business and especially a restaurant, a high-end restaurant, in New York City. Yeah, and I'm totally for the minimum wage increase, but they increased it kind of suddenly. That was very difficult because I think the public wasn't ready to pay for what it costs to give people that kind of a raise. That was one. Then I had some real estate tax issues there.
One of the other bigger reasons was that it's just impossible to find cooks these days. It's just there is a big labor shortage around the country and especially in New York City. Even with the $15 minimum wage, it's impossible to live in New York City on that wage, and so a lot of people are fleeing to places where it's easier to live, and including chefs. Yeah, and then I had a knee replacement that wasn't that successful. I had to have two follow-up surgeries, and it's been difficult to be on my feet, but yeah. There's a lot of reasons. I mean I miss it, for sure, but I don't regret it.
Suzy Chase: Talk a little bit about what waste has to do with Solo.
Anita Lo: Well, I think it's difficult to cook just for one person without wasting ingredients because we have this problem where everything is packed for a family of four even here in New York City. I think that is starting to change, but you have to buy a lot of product at once, and so I was trying to write this ... I don't like to waste food. It just goes against my DNA. It bothers me. It's just I find it disrespectful to the food and to the environment and to humanity and all that sort of stuff. I have tried to make a cookbook that helps you to cut down on waste.
Suzy Chase: Each recipe has a little story, a little pleasantry or quip at the beginning of it, for example, your Pan-Roasted Veal Chop With Mushrooms and Oysters, and you used to serve this at Annisa. How did you find this particular recipe?
Anita Lo: I was just looking online for inspiration. I think I was looking for old and really ancient recipes written in like Old English about some veal and oyster dish from way, way back when, and I was like, "Oh, my God. Yes, of course, that totally makes sense."
Suzy Chase: Your upbringing is so interesting to me. Your mother is Malaysian. Your father, who was from Shanghai, passed away when you were three, and your mom went on to marry a white American. While you were growing up, you had nannies, and your favorite was Hungarian. What culinary influences did she have on you?
Anita Lo: Oh, God. I love her cooking. One of my favorite things growing up was Chicken Paprikash, which is like this creamy-
Suzy Chase: What's that?
Anita Lo: It's a stew. It's this creamy stew with a lot of paprika, onions, parsley, and a good amount of sour cream. It's sort of thickened, and it's served with either dumplings, which when she made dumplings, it was special. You can eat it with rice or you can eat it with egg noodles. Love it.
Suzy Chase: Those evenings when you're hanging around at your house alone, what do you cook for yourself?
Anita Lo: There's an eggplant frittata that ... it's a version of a Filipino dish that's in my book, but I make that for myself every once in a while. I often make my mother's steamed fish. This book is somewhat reflective of what I eat when I'm by myself.
Suzy Chase: I'm always intrigued by the choice of illustrations, photos, or no images at all. Why did you choose illustrations, which are darling, by the way, and who did those?
Anita Lo: Julia Rothman, who is amazing and is all over the place these days. I was 100% behind this choice, but it was my editor's, Lexy Bloom's idea. I was like, "Oh, my God. Of course." The fact that it's a drawing makes it a little bit more approachable. It's not like it's some perfect thing that you have to make. I think it gives the reader options just to make it and put it on the plate than some of them.
Suzy Chase: The other night, I made your recipe for Broccoli Stem Slaw on page 164. Describe how this flavor profile is similar to the good old-fashioned Green Goddess dressing that we all grew up with in the Midwest.
Anita Lo: It's an old-fashioned dressing with a lot of tarragon, anchovy, garlic, lemon, bunch of other herbs, and then ... a green Ranch dressing with anchovy, right?
Suzy Chase: Yeah, and garlic.
Anita Lo: Right. Yeah, well, I think Ranch dressing had powdered garlic or something. Maybe it was a powdered onion.
Suzy Chase: Yes. You mentioned, in the book, something about how that fake garlic that kind of sticks with you for hours ...
Anita Lo: Oh, God. I hate that. Yeah, the jarred ... Oh, God. Ew. I guess I can't ... Oh, God. Yeah, I just ... Oh, sorry. The memory of it renders me speechless.
Suzy Chase: Describe the Broccoli Stem Slaw.
Anita Lo: Julienned or shredded broccoli stems, and you just take it and you mix it with some mashed avocado with lemon, garlic, anchovy, tarragon. It's rich and then it's crunchy and but it's also sort of healthy. Yeah, and it uses up the other half of your avocado, and it uses up those stems from your broccoli that a lot of people just throw away.
Suzy Chase: Now for my segment called My Last Meal. What would you have for your last supper?
Anita Lo: I think it would probably have to be some sort of Japanese omakase, but I'm a big fishy head, and I love to go get, yeah, just a really long, never-ending omakase with all my favorite different types of fish and shellfish.
Suzy Chase: Before I wrap this interview up, as a 23-year West Village resident, may I ask, and I'm sure you hear this all the time, if you're pondering another restaurant in the West Village?
Anita Lo: I am not. Yeah, I mean especially not now. I'm not ruling it out, but yeah, I don't ... I would love to open another restaurant, perhaps in another country, and as-
Suzy Chase: Oh, really?
Anita Lo: Yeah. I mean I'm never going to move, by any means, but I would like to ... I'm hoping to get some sort of long-term consulting gig, yeah, preferably somewhere I'd like to visit. Yeah, I can't really. Because of my knee, I can't be on my feet all the time. I don't think that precludes me from opening a restaurant, but I think it's not wise for me to try to work in it all the time. Yeah, I'm hoping to do that, but I'm ... I run these culinary tours with the Tour de Forks, and I ... which I really love, and I hope to continue to do that. I don't necessarily always work with owing a restaurant, especially in New York today.
Suzy Chase: Since we're neighbors, I also have to ask another neighborhood question. What's your favorite restaurant these days, favorite butcher, and where do you get your groceries?
Anita Lo: Oh, God. It's so upsetting now that Gourmet Garage is gone. I just-
Suzy Chase: They were gross, though.
Anita Lo: They weren't that gross, and they were right there. Yeah. I mean no grocery store is great, but what ... I mean what was gross about it? What did you think that was gross about it?
Suzy Chase: Well-
Anita Lo: I mean you certainly don't buy fish there, by any means. You don't buy ...
Suzy Chase: No. I bought chicken there one time, and I had to bring it back three times because they kept giving me this stinky, slimy ... but you know what? In a pinch, it was fine.
Anita Lo: Really?
Suzy Chase: If you needed mushrooms, if you needed beer, if you need lunch sushi, you could go there.
Anita Lo: Wow. Yeah, I never at any of the prepared foods.
Suzy Chase: What did you get there?
Anita Lo: Vegetables, olive oil, dairy. It was just, well, because that was the closest one to my house, and then it closed. Now I either have to go to Gristedes or I have to go to Citarella, which is just ridiculously expensive. Yeah, or then sometimes I go over to Brooklyn Fare, but that's pretty far.
Suzy Chase: Yeah.
Anita Lo: Let me think. Yeah, I don't really have a favorite grocery store, but I do, I go to Citarella ... fish. It's interesting because, after all these years buying wholesale prices, buying ingredients at wholesale prices, I just ... seeing these fish prices are like, "Oh, my God."
Suzy Chase: Ouch.
Anita Lo: Yeah. Yeah, I think I'm slowly getting used to it. I like Dickson's Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market for meat or high-end meat. I go to Florence Prime Meat for things like dry-aged steak, or I really love their Italian sausages there. They'll order stuff for me if I want something like fresh pork belly or whatever that you're not going to be able to buy in a grocery store. I ride my bike to Chinatown. I will buy things at Buon Italia in Chelsea Market as well as the Manhattan Fruit Market in the basement there, but yeah.
Suzy Chase: What's your favorite restaurant in the neighborhood these days?
Anita Lo: For sushi, I love Kosaka. I love that for high-end sushi. I love Via Carota, of course.
Suzy Chase: Of course.
Anita Lo: Yeah. I love Taim. I love Mustache. Oh, I love Hao Noodle and Tea, Ramen-Ya, Ramen-Ya, whatever, on West Fourth for ramen, or I love Empellon's soft tacos. Yeah, there's a lot of great food in the west village.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Anita Lo: Www.chefanitalo.com. I'm not on Facebook, but I'm on Instagram, and I am on Twitter @AnitoLoNYC.
Suzy Chase: Who says eating along should be lonely? I can't thank you enough, Anita Lo, for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Anita Lo: Thanks for having me.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram @cookerybythebook and subscribe at cookerybythebook.com or in Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery by the Book podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.