For Best New Chef Nina Compton, New Orleans Is a Key Ingredient

The One-time Top Chef favorite cooks up an ode to creole cuisines at her NOLA hotspot Compère Lapin.

You've seen Nina Compton before. As Food & Wine Restaurant Editor Jordana Rothman notes, "most people came to know Nina through her appearance on Top Chef, where she really was a contestant that people fell in love with."

But Nina's story begins much earlier—thousands of miles from New Orleans, the setting for her runner-up turn on the hit Bravo show and her buzzy new restaurant Compère Lapin.

The chef grew up on the island of St. Lucia—"It's a little dot on the map," she says—where her family has some seriously deep roots. "My dad was the Prime Minister, yeah," says Nina, laughing. "He led St. Lucia to independence from England. So we've been independent for 39 years, because of my dad. Imagine that!"

But the most influential person in Nina's culinary history may have been her grandmother, who was an exacting and accomplished home cook. "I just admired her from afar," says Nina, "and when we started cooking, we became very close. I was her sous chef in the kitchen."

Since then, Nina has worked under star chefs like Daniel Boulud. During her years in Miami, says Jordana, "she was number two underneath Scott Conant."

When she was presented the opportunity to open her own restaurant in NOLA, Nina leapt at the opportunity. For her, the city feels like a perfect fit: "When you get to New Orleans, it's like being in the Caribbean." The cuisine, too, values the intersecting flavors and influences that Nina grew up with—says Nina, "you see French influence, British influence, Portuguese, slavery, a lot of slave influence as that's the whole premise of the menu."

Nina's food at Compère Lapin is constantly pushing the boundaries of her adopted regional cuisine. Rothman describes her as playing with a "rubber band ball of what Louisiana cooking truly is, and she's unraveling it and looking at all of its parts."

"She has been crushing it with this sexy combination of bayou and Caribbean," adds Nilou Motamed, Food & Wine's Editor-in-Chief, "all with the flair that only she can provide."

For more on our latest class of BNCs, check out the rest of the Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2017.

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