Why We Love Nina Compton
Eating Nina’s food is like meandering the culinary backroads of her mind. From Caribbean roots to New Orleans heritage, classical French training and Italian experience, her menus are braided narratives of fun, flavor and folklore.
“I grew up cooking by my grandmother’s side. I was her little sous chef in the kitchen.”
“When you look at my food, know that that’s Nina Compton on the plate.”
How did your familial experience draw you to cooking?
Cooking is one of those things that’s very personal. Everybody has to eat! When you get to share those moments with other people around you it becomes very special. That drew me to cooking. For my family, having lunch together on the veranda back home was a big thing. Just being together, talking about things going on around us. It was a very social interaction we had every day. I wanted to share those things through cooking. I think eating and having a good meal really brings people joy. So, that’s something I really wanted to be a part of.
How much was St. Lucia a part of shaping who you are today?
It was instrumental because the island is French and British, so we had strong ties with both countries. But us becoming independent was really us putting our best foot forward. It was about focusing on our roots and our heritage. That was something that my dad really tried to push for.
How does New Orleans compare to St. Lucia?
There are a lot of similarities and that’s why I really wanted to live here. People say they have a very nonchalant outlook on life in New Orleans, and that’s something we do back home in St. Lucia. We work hard and we play hard. Another similarity between New Orleans and St. Lucia is that the city has been influenced by the people from Africa, Cuba, Portugal, England and France brought over during the slave trade—they all settled here and kind of left their mark, which you see speckled throughout the Caribbean. So, that’s definitely a common thread for both of us.
How would you describe your cuisine?
It’s quite international. It’s really my journey becoming a chef, working for really great chefs. It was me honing my skills as a young cook and learning techniques that I couldn’t back home. But I think now I’m at the point where I’m using those techniques, but using Caribbean ingredients. Which for me was finding my culinary voice along the way. That was very important for me because I could’ve cooked Italian or French food all my life, but I wanted to find my roots being from St. Lucia.
What’s a dish you think that best describes Compère Lapin?
Believe it or not, it’s the curried goat. Curried goat you can find anywhere in the Caribbean, but I wanted to do it a little bit differently. Learning from Italian chefs, I had spent a lot of time making pasta. Now you usually see curry goat with white rice in the Caribbean, but I think what makes mine so special in unique and ties in with the restaurant is the sweet potato gnocchi. It’s the number-one-selling dish on the menu because a lot of people have never had goat, but so many people really, really enjoy the dish.
New Orleans loves their drinks. Are you a Hurricane lady?
No, I’m a Sazerac girl. That’s just a nice drink to sip on and enjoy the day. It’s something that really ties into New Orleans. When we first moved here, we knew it was the cocktail capital of the world. We sourced the best people to run our bar program because we saw that cocktails have to go hand-in-hand with the food because that’s what’s expected in this city!
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