Nina ComptonThe New Orleans chef sings the virtues of simplicity.

Nina ComptonThe New Orleans chef sings the virtues of simplicity.

  • Photo Craig Mulcahy

Born and raised in Saint Lucia, Krug ambassador Nina Compton blends the flavors of her homeland with classic French culinary training and a passion for all things Italian. After stints in New York and Miami Beach, she’s the chef-owner of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro in New Orleans. Rich with Caribbean and French heritage, it’s a city where she feels right at home. “People in New Orleans love celebrating,” she says. “There are many of those Champagne-worthy moments happening on my doorstep every day.” 

Annick Weber: How do you balance simplicity and complexity in your cooking?

Nina Compton: When I was a younger chef I wanted to show all the techniques I mastered on one plate. With experience, you learn to be more restrained; you realize that you don’t need that many different elements to hold a dish together. I now enjoy the simplicity of things. I like to elevate the freshest of ingredients in my cooking, allowing the complexity of their flavors to shine.

AW: What tip would you give home cooks on how to elevate a simple ingredient such as rice? 

NC: I want people to understand that cooking is not that hard; whether cooking in a restaurant or at home, all you need is good, seasonal and—where possible—locally grown produce. When it comes to rice, I love working with Louisiana jasmine rice, which is grown not far from New Orleans. For vegetables, get whatever is in season at a farmers market and prepare it with good olive oil and salt. It’ll be the best thing you’ve ever eaten. 

AW: How can Champagne enhance the flavors of a dish?

NC: It’s all about understanding the beauty of Champagne. Krug is definitely in a class of its own. Its bubbles make your tongue feel wonderfully light, and they energize and cleanse the palate with every sip. As a result, you’re more receptive to tasting the unique flavors of a dish. For example, a buttery Champagne complements crispy fried chicken perfectly. However, I find it just as interesting when a Champagne contrasts with the food. That’s why I like to pair the brightness of Krug Grande Cuvée with the richness of caviar and crème fraiche in the rice-flour blini recipe that I created for the Single Ingredient program. 

AW: Are there any no-gos when it comes to Champagne pairings? 

NC: You don’t want to overpower the Champagne; it should be part of the show and not play second fiddle to the food. I find that simple dishes, like raw ceviches and tartares work particularly well. You don’t want to have overly spicy or smoky foods that dull the palate and kill the excellence of the Champagne—because Champagne doesn’t only heighten the food, it helps to highlight the beauty of the moment, too. 

ISSUE 52

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