Anita Lo, a first generation Chinese-American, grew up with her family in Birmingham, Michigan, and fostered an interest in food at a young age. While earning a degree in French language at Columbia University, she studied at Reid Hall—Columbia's French language institute in Paris. She fell in love with the food culture and vowed to return. Back in the United States, Lo accepted her first kitchen job as garde-manger at Bouley, and after a year, she decided to move back to Paris and enroll in Ecole Ritz-Escoffier, a revered culinary institution.
She received her degree, graduating first in her class with honors, while interning under Guy Savoy and Michel Rostang. Back in New York, Lo worked her way through all the stations at David Waltuck’s Chanterelle. She developed her culinary style during her time at Mirezi, where she earned a two-star review from Ruth Reichl at The New York Times.
In 2000, Lo opened Annisa (which means ''women'' in Arabic), an intimate, upscale restaurant in Greenwich Village serving Contemporary American cuisine. It was an instant hit, earning a two-star review from The New York Times. Food & Wine magazine named her one of ten “Best New Chefs in America” in 2001, and the Village Voice proclaimed Lo as “Best New Restaurant Chef” that same year.
In 2005, Anita Lo co-founded Rickshaw, a dumpling bar with several locations in New York City and also appeared on the first season of Iron Chef America, defeating her competitor Mario Batali.
In 2008, she opened Bar Q, an Asian barbecue restaurant in Greenwich Village. The following year, in June 2009, after nearly ten years in business, Annisa suffered an unfortunate blow—a fire destroyed the restaurant entirely.
Lo decided to take some time to travel as plans for rebuilding Annisa got underway. She scoured the globe for inspiration. Meanwhile, Lo appeared on the first season of Top Chef Masters where she battled her contemporaries on weekly challenges that tested their culinary prowess. She finished fourth out of 24 chefs.
In April 2010, after a complete renovation of the original Barrow Street location, Lo reopened Annisa. She kept many of the same elements—clean design, welcoming atmosphere, small menu and a few signature dishes—but shook it up with new additions to the menu inspired by her recent travels that ranged from culinary trips to Senegal and Russia to a fishing trip to Alaska. Annisa was reviewed again by The New York Times and received two stars.
In October 2011, Lo released her first cookbook, "Cooking Without Borders," which highlights her passion for bringing multicultural flavors to her American kitchen. Her recipes celebrate the best flavors and ingredients from around the world at a time when access to international ingredients is greater than ever before. Interspersed are stories from Lo’s life, memories of her travels and tips on cooking.
In February 2014, critic Pete Wells re-reviewed Annisa in The New York Times, bestowing the restaurant with a prestigious three stars. In the review, he calls her food “remarkable” and “impressive,” and the restaurant “graceful and unfussy.”
In 2015, Anita Lo was the first female guest chef to cook for a State Dinner at the White House, under the Obama administration. She prepared a 4-course meal for the visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan.
In May 2017, after 17 years of business, and holding a Michelin star for nine consecutive years, Lo closed Annisa to pursue her next great adventure. And in the meantime, her second book, "Solo: Easy Sophisticated Recipes For a Party of One," will be published in the Fall of 2018.