Anja Lee Hall (née Wittels) was born and raised at Lake Tahoe and from a young age loved cooking for her family. While at North Tahoe High School, she worked with well-known local caterer Melanie Jackson. After college she moved to the Bay Area, worked as a personal chef, and began running her own busy catering company.
The day before one of her biggest events, a dinner for the Golden State Warriors, the Covid shutdown brought her catering business to a screeching halt. Hall pivoted to becoming a personal chef, appeared on Food Network shows, wrote a cookbook, and eventually settled into running her Tiny Kitchen cooking school, where she gets to do what she loves best: cook for you.
“I loved cooking with mom and my mimi (grandma), who encouraged me to be on a cooking show,” Hall said. When she was 11, “Mom encouraged me to cook a meal for the family. We planned everything, got all the ingredients. I thought, ‘This is the best, this is so much fun seeing everyone enjoying the food.’”
A few years later she started working with Jackson. “I really loved being in the kitchen with a bunch of women who would chat and talk about life,” said Hall, who also has fond memories of her cooking class at NTHS with Laura Hartung.
After high school Hall had a difficult decision to make: follow her passion to culinary school or go with the safer bet of college. She chose UC Berkeley, where she was able to create her own major, “the political economy of food.” Throughout college she kept her fingers in food, interning at Chez Panisse, and helping underserved youth learning how to cook through the Sprout Cooking Club.
The greatest impact on her development as a chef during that period, however, was her year abroad in Lyon, France. Her host mother was an amazing cook. Hall watched her closely and learned the secrets of French cooking.
After graduation Hall returned to Tahoe and over the next two years held 13 jobs (often several at a time) while trying to figure out what she wanted to do. She was a personal chef for the founders of AOL, sold wine for Gallo, and took on a host of other food-related gigs. Finally, “I went back to the city,” she shared. “I was really lost and went into software sales.”
While it didn’t take her long to figure out that she didn’t like being out of the kitchen, Hall did learn about business and sales. “All I wanted to do was go home and cook for my friends,” she said. She took a big risk and started a catering company.
“I built a website, told everyone I knew I was a caterer, while teaching workout classes to make my rent,” she said. It was barely paying the bills, when finally, her big break arrived. “I got a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were in town for the playoffs with the Warriors.”
In four days’ time, she would need to provide all the food and then serve it in the locker room. “I didn’t know how to do this. I called mom for help. She drove down from Tahoe and we cooked for 14 hours a day for three days,” Hall recalled. “We barbecued in the parking lot. It was a total shit show, but they invited us back.” She cooked for all the games, but each night had to wait to see if the Cavaliers won before prepping for the next day’s meal.
Soon after, her catering business began thriving and did so for the next seven years. She also competed on the Food Network show Cutthroat Kitchen with Alton Brown.
Then, in March of 2020, the world and her business came to an abrupt halt at the Warriors game. “We ate that food for two months, which was helpful since, suddenly, I didn’t have a job,” said Hall.
Hall had a hunch that the shutdown was going to last, so she sold everything and started over.
“Friends asked me to do cooking classes on Zoom for team building. I started to figure out how to do that. Quickly, that was booming. Then we started packing ingredient kits with all the food you would need for a recipe. We were shipping them all over the country. I was loving it,” she said.
Also during the Covid shutdown, Hall competed in the Food Network program Supermarket Stakeout with Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. In the game, the contestants run through a supermarket, pick a person with a shopping cart full of food, and from that prepare a meal. Hall emerged as the winner.
She wrote a book, too — How to Cook Healthier: An Easy Cookbook for Balanced Eating. “I had to power the book out in the matter of three months — it meant long, late nights, but I had a blast writing it,” she said. It was published in the spring of 2021.
As the world began to open up again in 2021, it was time for another shift: to virtual cooking classes with people buying their own ingredients. She started Tiny Kitchen, a membership-based cooking program. You can join the club, get the recipes and shopping list, and then cook the recipe with Hall teaching online. The club also has videos of past recipes that members can try anytime.
“It opened up my creativity to try new recipes. I can be ultra-creative,” Hall said. “It has become a community of people. We love seeing each other all the time. They get to cook healthier meals and serve them to their own family. It’s more convenient than going to a cooking class.”
One of her longtime students is La Quinta resident Wendy Sanders. As a professor at College of the Desert, Sanders started out as a business client of Hall’s, who provided the food and training for cooking classes at the school. “It was an incredible luxury,” Sanders said.
The program ended once the college returned to in-person classes, but Sanders was quick to join the Tiny Kitchen program.
“It is so much fun that I gave gift memberships to my sister and two of my friends.” she said. “Anja is so bubbly and vivacious. She taught us basic skills that we can apply in lots of different ways. I use them all the time. She is truly sharing her expertise.”
For information on joining the Tiny Kitchen Club or for Hall’s team-building events, go to anjalee.co.