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May 13, 2021

THIS COUPLE COOK

When Iron Chef America’s chairman Mark Dacascos announced that Anita Lo would be the first female to challenge one of the great Iron Chefs, he chose Mario Batali to be her opponent. Despite her team’s unfamiliarity with the kitchen setup, and working with a range that never got hot enough for her signature pan-Asian dishes, in the end the judges declared her the winner over this culinary icon.

For those who have not watched the Food Network’s Iron Chef America program, it is based on a Japanese cult sensation, Iron Chef. The format is this: the Food Network presents three great world-class Iron Chefs: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Masaharu Morimoto, plus one challenger. Chairman Mark Dacascos selects which chef will compete against the relatively unknown food artist. Dacascos also selects a surprise secret ingredient, and the two chefs each have an hour to prepare a variety of dishes using that ingredient. Shows have featured mushrooms, potatoes, or just one particular type of fish as the highlighted ingredient.

At the end of the hour, the dishes are presented to a panel of three judges who sample the finished products and rate them on taste, appearance and originality. Chef Lo told us that when Iron Chef America producer and Food Network vice president Bruce Seidel checked out her cooking at her restaurant, she just happened to be running a bill of fare tasting where all of the dishes were made with corn. When she made her television appearance, the key ingredient selected wasn’t corn, it was mushrooms.

Lo's all-female team included Jennifer Scism, who is her partner in life and at Annisa, their very popular and well-respected restaurant in New York’s West Village. Annisa is Arabic for “women.”

For Lo and Scism, their relationship was kismet. Although they met while working at the same restaurant, it wasn’t until years later that they became a couple.

For Lo, a second generation Chinese-American, working in the kitchen has been a lifelong love. While earning a degree in French from Columbia University in New York City, she spent her junior year abroad in Paris studying the fine art of cooking. After graduation, she held a one-year stint in the garde-manger station of Bouley Restaurant.

After Bouley, she returned to France to earn another degree at the famous Ritz-Escoffier school. Graduating first in her class with honors, she then interned at several highly rated Parisian restaurants. She worked with such chefs as Michel Rostang and Guy Savoy. "When I returned to New York," says Lo, "I made use of my culinary talents through the stations of Chanterelle.”

Scism, meanwhile, had earned a degree in interior design at Ohio University and enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where she worked in the school’s kitchen, L’Ecole.

But, it wasn’t until Can, a French-Vietnamese restaurant in Soho that Scism and Lo’s career paths crossed. Scism was hired as Lo’s sous-chef. Did karma click? No, not yet. That’s when just a good friendship began to blossom.

Scism's talents brought her opportunities at some highly respected restaurants including the position of poissonier at Bouley, tournant at Arcadia and chef de cuisine at the Lobster Club. In the meantime, Lo, who had always shown her rainbow colors, made her mark at Mirezi, a pan-Asian hotspot.

Finally, in 1997, it was Scism's opportunity to come out of the closet, and she approached Lo. The U-Haul was rented a few months later. They then spent a great deal of time traveling the world and searching for the ultimate meal in the Mediterranean and in Southeast Asia.

While Lo continued her career as a chef, Scism wanted to learn more about the business end, so she worked for a time in the front room of Chanterelle. In 2000, the two combined their talents and their dreams and opened Annisa, where Scism, a certified Sommelier, handles the front of house while Lo runs the kitchen, which features contemporary American cuisine.

On the menu at Annisa? A variety of textures and flavors culled from their travels and educated palates, such as Salad of Lobster, Avocado and Konnyaku with Lemon Verbena; Chilled Korean Buckwheat Noodles and Honshimeji Mushrooms in Broth; White Tuna Tartare with Korean Chili, Black Sesame and Asian Pear; Grilled Filet of Japanese Sea Bass with Cardoons and Sumac; and Pan Roasted Farm Chicken with Sherry, White Truffle and Pig Feet.

How does a couple that labors together, plays together and lives together stay together? "Jennifer and I live in an apartment in the Village, but we have our getaway at a house on Long Island," says Lo. "It’s all about love and the ability to work at both the relationship itself and our common goals.”

Anita Lo offers a Recipe for Romance:

Zucchini Flowers with Feta, Currants and Dill (Serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 4 female zucchini blossoms, stamen removed, separated from the fruit, fruit fanned
  • Tomato sauce:
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large pinch cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Stuffing:

  • 1/2 cup zucchini, grated in food processor, salted and squeezed dry
  • 1/2 small onion, sweated until very soft in butter, little salt
  • 1/4 cup strained, crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 pinch cumin
  • A few gratings of nutmeg
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Garnish:
  • 1/2 Tbsp. dried currants
  • 1/2 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped

Method: Make the tomato sauce: in a saucepan, heat the olive oil, add the onion and turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent but not browned. Add the garlic and cinnamon and stir. Add the tomatoes and simmer until thickened to sauce consistency, about 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside to keep warm.

Make and stuff the blossoms: Mix all stuffing ingredients together, taste and adjust seasonings. Use a spoon to place a few tablespoons of filling into each flower and pinch to close the tops.

To serve: Steam or sauté in olive oil the blossoms until the baby zucchini are cooked and the flowers are heated through. Place an ounce of tomato sauce into the center of a warm plate, garnish with the currants and top with the blossoms.

Serve immediately.

Side bar:

Kitchen-ary

Chef de cuisine: Head of the kitchen
Garde-manger: Pantry chef
Poissonier: Chef in charge of fish and seafood
Sommelier: Wine steward
Sous-chef: Second in command of the kitchen

November 01, 2005 - Pink Magazine

 


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