Chef Anita Lo’s Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One (Knopf, Nov.) is all about creating satisfying, balanced single-serving meals.
Your book is about cooking for one. How did you come up with that idea?
I was on the phone with a friend of mine who helps organize a charity event that I have been involved in for the past 15 years, for an ovarian cancer support group, and we started brainstorming different cookbooks that could use my name, like “Lo Country Cooking” or “Lo Cal Cooking.” It went on for at least 50 different titles. One of the names we came up with was “ALone or SoLo,” and I said, “Oh my god, I have to do that!”
The book has a lot of humor in it. You even manage to make heartbreak amusing by suggesting a jilted lover might eat a single egg on a bed of bitter greens on Valentine’s Day.
That’s a dish I’ve been doing for Valentine’s Day since I worked at Maxim’s in the early ’90s. As a chef, you have to take advantage of any holiday when you could possibly sell a little more. Maybe because I’d been single for so long at that point, I felt it was a Hallmark holiday and kind of cheesy, so I really cheesed up my menu. We did it in red and pink and drew hearts. Then we did plays on words, like passion fruit. But I always include something for the lonely person.
Your Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant Annisa closed in 2017. What changes did you see in American cooking during the 17 years it was open?
Over the life of Annisa, we had the advent of the Food Network, and that turned chefs into media stars. Before it was just about who could cook and made nice food, and suddenly you had to be able to speak in front of large audiences and go on camera.
You’ve been on Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef America. Did those television skills come naturally to you?
Absolutely not—I’m actually shy by nature. It’s certainly been uncomfortable at times, but it was something I wanted to hone as a skill. Also, it’s interesting to see other industries. Television is fascinating to me. It’s nice to get out of your bubble.
Though your book is for solo diners, you now have a partner. Has your cooking changed since you became part of a couple?
My partner’s also a chef. We like most of the same things, but sometimes she wants to be healthier than I want to be. I always want to please and I always want us to be on the same page about what we want to eat, but sometimes she doesn’t know what she wants. But this is sort of an all-purpose cookbook on some level, as long as you can do basic math. Hopefully anyone can multiply by two!