chef nino compton portrait
Credit: DENNY CULBERT

Chef Nina Compton Approaches Life the Way She Runs Her Kitchens—with Plenty of Spice

Here, the James Beard Award winner shares a few of her favorite things.
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Growing up in St. Lucia, Nina Compton, the chef and owner of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans, adored playing sous-chef to her grandmother—picking parsley, chopping onions, and cooking rice. Her late father, the island's former prime minister, came home every day for an elaborate lunch. One Christmas when she was 16, she made hors d'oeuvres for her family. "I saw how happy they were, eating, laughing, talking," recalls the James Beard Award winner. "I knew right then I wanted to be a chef."

Compton got a five-star education, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York; doing a stint at Daniel in New York City; and achieving the honored role of chef de cuisine at Scott Conant's Scarpetta, in Miami Beach. In 2013, she also won fans' hearts on Top Chef: New Orleans, and opened Compère Lapin there two years later. "I wanted to showcase the diversity of Caribbean food," she says of her deeply personal dishes, like goat curry with green cardamom, fresh curry leaves, and turmeric, served with pillowy sweet-potato gnocchi and crunchy cashews. She opened her latest venture, Bywater American Bistro, "to feed our neighbors" simple hits like jerk chicken and handmade spaghetti in silky pomodoro sauce. Compton zips between these spots on her Vespa so she doesn't miss a minute of the action: "I get such a thrill when I'm in the kitchen." Here, the chef shares a few of her everyday essentials that bring her joy and get her from one restaurant to the next.

Her Top Picks

Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Black, White, and The Grey

"This is a beautiful story about a Black chef and her White business partner opening a restaurant in a former segregated bus station. It was once a place of so much hurt, but now it brings everyone together."

Shop Now: Black, White, and The Grey by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano, $15.69, amazon.com.

Imperia Pasta Machine
Credit: Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

Pasta Machine

"I make a lot of pasta at home. I just mix up a batch, roll it out in whatever shape I want, and store it in the freezer."

Shop Now: Imperia Pasta Machine, $80, williams-sonoma.com.

Baron West Indian Hot Sauce
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Hot Sauce

"It's true Caribbean seasoning. I put it on everything."

Shop Now: Baron West Indian Hot Sauce, from $10.12, amazon.com.

Defend New Orleans T‐Shirt
Credit: Courtesy of DNO

T-Shirt

"When I have this on, I feel like I'm part of the in-crowd. Plus, it's super-comfortable. I love to support local artists and businesses. Defend New Orleans donates a portion of its proceeds to non-profits here."

Shop Now: Defend New Orleans T‐Shirt, $28, dno.la.

Apple AirPods Pro
Credit: Courtesy of Apple

Apple AirPods Pro

"Wearing them is like being in my own private studio. When I'm cooking, I put on Amy Winehouse and sing."

Shop Now: Apple AirPods Pro, $249, apple.com.

Chapstick in Strawberry
Credit: Courtesy of Target

Chapstick

"Since I'm in the kitchen most days, I rarely wear makeup. I prefer a natural look: I fill in my brow and add a swipe of this."

Shop Now: Chapstick in Strawberry, $4 for three, target.com.

French Truck Coffee Le Grand Coq Rouge
Credit: Courtesy of French Truck Coffee

Coffee Beans

"This rich, nutty brew is roasted right here in New Orleans."

Shop Now: French Truck Coffee Le Grand Coq Rouge, $13.50, frenchtruckcoffee.com.

Le Creuset French Press in Deep Teal,
Credit: Courtesy of Sur La Table

French Press

"I drink coffee from one of these every morning at home with some milk, and then again later at the restaurant."

Shop Now: Le Creuset French Press in Deep Teal, $75, surlatable.com.

Epoisses Cheese
Credit: PETER ARDITO

Favorite Cheese

"Give me a glass of Sancerre, a crusty baguette, and this French classic—which has just the right amount of stinkiness—and I'm in heaven."

Shop Now: Epoisses Cheese, $30, murrayscheese.com.

Tod's Gommino Driving Shoes in Orange Suede
Credit: Courtesy of Tod's

Driving Shoes

"They make a statement, and dress up simple jeans and a t-shirt."

Shop Now: Tod's Gommino Driving Shoes in Orange Suede, $495, tods.com.

Levi's 501 Original Jeans
Credit: Courtesy of Levi's

Levi's

"These are part of my work uniform. They fit well and last forever."

Shop Now: Levi's 501 Original Jeans, $98, levi.com.

Cartier Panthère de Cartier Watch
Credit: Courtesy of Cartier

Cartier Watch

"I've had this for about 20 years. I wear it all the time."

Shop Now: Cartier Panthère de Cartier Watch, price dependent on model, cartier.com.

Vespa Primavera 50 in Montebianco
Credit: Courtesy of Vespa

Vespa

"My only mode of transport: I'm care-free driving it around with the fresh air blowing in my face. And it's easy to park! I love getting around town on my Vespa. New Orleans is such a welcoming city. I feel a kinship between here and St. Lucia."

Shop Now: Vespa Primavera 50 in Montebianco, $3,999, vespa.com.

Martha Stewart Collection Percale Sheet Set in Tide Blue
Credit: FRANK FRANCES

Martha Stewart Sheets

"You just can't go wrong with them. They're so soft."

Shop Now: Martha Stewart Collection Percale Sheet Set in Tide Blue, from $60, macys.com.

Palmer's Original Cocoa Butter
Credit: PETER ARDITO

Cocoa Butter

"It feels so good: moisturizing but not too heavy."

Shop Now: Palmer's Original Cocoa Butter, $3.89, target.com.