Chef Nina Compton arrived in New Orleans in 2015 with a fan base already in place thanks to her star turn on "Top Chef" the year before. At her restaurant Compère Lapin, however, she's been winning new fans one meal at a time, with a refreshingly original cuisine at the nexus of Caribbean, French and Italian flavors.
Now, Food + Wine magazine is singing her praises to a national audience, naming Nina Compton to its 2017 list of best new chefs.
The editors explain their annual list as an effort “to uncover America’s most brilliant up-and-coming chefs.” It’s an honor she shares with 11 other chefs around the country this year.
Compton is a native of St. Lucia, and the menu at Compère Lapin has many connections to the islands. Dishes like conch croquettes, seafood pepper pot and curried goat tell the tale vividly, while other influences are more foundational, like the way her kitchen makes chile pepper spice feel like an expression of affection. Taken together, Compton’s cuisine delivers refreshingly original, readily approachable cuisine at the nexus of Italian, French and Caribbean.
In introducing their picks this year, the Food & Wine editors wrote that Compton’s “food contends beautifully and deliciously with her own heritage and that of her adopted city.”
Compton drew the name Compère Lapin (French for “brother rabbit”) from a character in a popular Caribbean folktale. From St. Lucia, she moved to New York for culinary school and started her career at French chef Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-rated Manhattan restaurant, Daniel. She later moved to Miami, where she continued working with high-profile chefs, including Norman Van Aken, the acclaimed pioneer of modern American fusion cuisine. She was chef de cuisine at Scarpetta in Miami, working with chef Scott Conant, when she was selected as a contestant on the Bravo show "Top Chef."
“Nina is the real deal, and she truly gets down into it, I love watching her cook,” Conant said in a 2015 interview with the Advocate.
Compton and her husband Larry Miller opened Compere Lapin in the spring of 2015 in the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery on Tchoupitoulas Street.
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Food + Wine began its Best New Chef awards in 1988, and Frank Brigtsen was among the first class of winners. Others to follow from New Orleans include Susan Spicer, John Besh, Greg Sonnier of the now-closed Gabrielle, John Harris of Lilette, Sue Zemanick, formerly of Gautreau’s and Ian Schnoebelen, formerly of Iris, now of Mariza. Over the years, Food + Wine’s list has ID’d some luminaries of the industry early in their careers, including Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud.
Compton is in the running for another national culinary award this year as a finalist for the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: South.
535 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-599-2119
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