Straight to the Source of Spice and Inspiration with Chef Nina Compton

Chef and owner of Compere Lapin in New Orleans. 

These days, the culinary world is more connected than ever. Originally from St. Lucia, James Beard Award-winning Chef Nina Compton artfully brings a taste of the Caribbean to New Orleans at Compère Lapin. As many of St. Lucia’s core flavors are derived from India, Chef Compton is well-versed in globally influenced cuisine.

This fall, Chef Compton is going straight to the source in India and you’re invited. In collaboration with Modern Adventure, an experiential travel company, Chef Compton is leading a group travelers in a once-in-a-lifetime tour across India. We sat down with Chef Compton to learn more about her upcoming Modern Adventure trip to India as well as what excites her about Compere Lapin and the future of the New Orleans food scene.

An Interview with Chef Nina Compton

Q: I’d love to start with your upcoming trip with Modern Adventure trip to India. In a recent interview, you mentioned Indian curry as an inspiration. Are there any other spices or dishes that have inspired your cooking?
    A: Growing up in St. Lucia, there are a lot of Indian influences. So, it’s not just the curry but flatbread like roti and other spices they brought to the Caribbean as well. I want to trace that back… and to immerse myself in that.

Q: Out of the places you’ll be going in India, is there anywhere you’re most excited for?
    A: All of them. We’re going to spend a night in the jungle, I mean, c’mon! Then we’re going to have a home-cooked meal by somebody there and I think that’s really special. It’s a very thoughtful trip because it’s not like we’re just going to stay in a ritzy hotel and do the touristy things. It’s an authentic tour of India. We’re going to multiple regions which is special because India is so big… I think we did a really great job of [making a trip that] comes full circle.

Q: What excites the most about Compere Lapin in 2020?
    A: We’re going to turn five in June which feels so young and so old at the same time. Time does go by quickly and, man, it’s only been five years. But it’s fun because it is a new decade and we’re setting new goals for the restaurant and our staff. I’m trying to get everyone to reach those goals and grow within the company as well. That’s one of the biggest things for us this year.

Q: What excites you about the New Orleans food scene in 2020?
    A: When I moved here, there weren’t a lot of non-traditional restaurants and now there are. You have a lot of young chefs that opening their own restaurants and just cooking what they know, not in the parameters of Creole or Cajun or classic French [cuisine]. They’re doing Chinese-fusion and Vietnamese. They have young chefs that have worked under really big chefs and they’re [now] finding their own voices.

Q: You can really feel the creativity here.
    A: Yes, and it’s supportive. The people here are so excited when these restaurants open. The anticipation is there. It’s nice to have people support these restaurants because it’s a tough business and to have that local support is huge.

Q: When you’re not at Compere Lapin, where are your favorite places to eat and drink in New Orleans?
    A: That’s tough. I don’t have that much time, so I stick to my neighborhood. I live in the Bywater and stick around there. Bacchanal is a nice, easy wind-down [place] where you can have cheese and wine and listen to some music. It’s very relaxed. People always ask me what my favorite restaurant is and when the interview is over, I’ll have 25 more to add. I have my usual three but there are so many.