Kitchen Conversations with Norman Van Aken: Anita Lo

This classically French trained chef combines her Asian roots with inflences from around the world to create inventive fare

At Annisa, fusion cooking takes center stage.

Norman Van Aken, a member of The Daily Meal Council, is a Florida-based chef–restaurateur (Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando), cooking teacher, and author. His most recent book is a memoir, No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken. This is the one in a regular series of Kitchen Conversations — informal but revealing interchanges with key culinary figures — that Van Aken will be contributing to The Daily Meal. He also writes a regular series of Kitchen Meditations for us. You can find all of Norman’s contributions on his Daily Meal page.

Anita Lo, chef and owner of Annisa in New York City, and author of Cooking Without Borders, is one of the most highly regarded chefs in the country. Chef Lo is known for her contemporary American cuisine that highlights her multicultural upbringing and classic French training. She is a first generation Chinese-American who combines flavors inspired by her Asian roots, culinary travels, and the seasons to create innovative dishes that are unexpected, delicious, and impressive.

After numerous awards and accolades and 10 years in business at Annisa (whose name means ''women'' in Arabic), chef Lo's restaurant unfortunately burned down. However, after taking some time to travel the world, gathering new found inspiration from all over the globe, she decided to embark on re-building Annisa. During this time Anita appeared on the first season of Top Chef Masters where she finished fourth out of 24 chefs. Annisa reopened in 2010 and the following year she released her much anticipated first cookbook, Cooking Without Borders, which showcases her passion for bringing multicultural flavors to her American kitchen. For more about chef Lo and Annisa, click here.

Norman Van Aken: What is the very first thing you remember eating and enjoying? Where were you?
Chef Annita Lo:
When I was 2 years old we went on a family trip to see our relatives in Malaysia. I remember eating a very juicy, sweet orange on my aunt's back porch in KL. The juice was dripping down my chin, into my shirt and off my elbows. Then my mother came and cleaned me up.

Are you the first ‘chef’ in your Family?
As far as I know, yes.

When did you start cooking?
I took some cooking classes after my junior year in college while I was in Paris for the summer. I started cooking professionally right after I graduated college in 1988.

When did you realize that it was ‘serious’ to you?
I think as soon as I was in cooking school. I really loved everything about it.