20 Questions with Nina Compton of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro
In the Resy Questionnaire, we play a game of 20 questions with the industry folks behind some of our favorite restaurants. What’s your most memorable restaurant experience? Your favorite food movie? What restaurant would you want to time-travel for?
In New Orleans’ very first edition, we speak to Nina Compton, the acclaimed and award-winning chef-owner behind Compère Lapin, Bywater American Bistro, and Nina’s Creole Cottage.
The Resy Questionnaire
1. Favorite thing you’ve ever cooked?
Canapés for my family’s Christmas cocktail party. The holidays in Saint Lucia were really special. My dad would make his famous milk punch, we’d have Caribbean black fruit cake, and family and friends would come by all day. I loved making the canapés, not because they were so unique or special, but because they signified a joyous familiar time together with everyone.
2. Kitchen tool or equipment you couldn’t live without?
Hands down, my mandolin. There is just nothing else that can thinly slice the amount of vegetables and ingredients we use in our dishes.
3. What pantry items would you bring on a desert island?
Salt, pepper, rice, honey, and cayenne. Salt and pepper is obvious, rice can keep me going for days, and honey and cayenne pack a perfect balance of sweet and hot.
4. What’s your favorite place to get a po’boy in New Orleans?
Frady’s One Stop Food Store, but we just call it Frady’s. It’s in Bywater, our neighborhood, and depending on my mood, I’ll get a roast beef, catfish, or an oyster po’boy. And always dressed! (Lettuce, tomato, mayo.)
5. Favorite cookbook?
Manresa: An Edible Reflection, by David Kinch and Christine Muhlke. Manresa was one of the best meals I’ve ever had and I really connected with David Kinch through his food. You feel the same connection through this book, his words, and his recipes.
6. Your drink of choice?
A glass of rosé.
7. Favorite food movie?
Princess and the Frog. It takes place in the 1920s in New Orleans and I love Tiana and her dream of opening her own restaurant. I really related.
8. Your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive?
Leah Chase, José Andrés, Dr. Jessica B. Harris, and Donald Link. It would be a dinner filled with thoughtful and meaningful conversation, and it would be such a pleasure cooking for them.
9 + 10. What restaurant industry person do you admire the most? What’s the greatest restaurant experience of your life so far?
David Kinch of Manresa. Eating at Manresa was an experience I will never forget. I had an abalone and poblano chowder and the layers of flavor were incredible.
11. Your greatest professional achievement?
Moving to New Orleans and opening Compère Lapin was a big enough accomplishment, but then, to have such an incredibly warm reception of the restaurant by everyone was really special.
12. What single dish best describes your personality?
Curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi. It’s pretty representative of who I am with Caribbean curry goat. And then, since I worked and trained in Italian technique, I love hand rolling gnocchi — I find it relaxing. The combination of the flavors and ingredients in the dish work perfectly.
13. If you could go back in time, which restaurant would you dine at?
Restaurant Paul Bocuse. I’d love to go back to the early 70s when nouvelle cuisine was just becoming a thing. Paul Bocuse was so innovative for his time and I think it would be such a learning experience to dine there.
14. Your favorite meal from childhood?
Green figs and saltfish, it’s the national dish of Saint Lucia and was a staple growing up. Green figs are actually green bananas — they’re not sweet and they’re a typical part of our diet, like potatoes are in the U.S. You serve them with salted cod that’s boiled, flaked, and sautéed with herbs and spices.
15. Your wish for the restaurant industry?
To get better every day.
16. What do you wish you did better? What do you do well?
Better: I wish I could chill out. I’m constantly on the move and have a hard time just doing nothing.
Well: I multi-task very well. Having three restaurants requires me to be in multiple places at virtually the same time and I’ve always been able to juggle things very well.
17. If you could eat through a city for a day, where would you go?
Paris — what a romantic food city.
18. The one thing you can’t resist splurging on when you go out?
I love caviar, there’s something so decadent about it.
19. What do you value most in restaurants?
Human interaction. Shuttering our doors for so many months on end [during the pandemic] was isolating. I love seeing the customers come in and break bread together. It’s a crucial part of the dining experience.
20. It’s your last meal on earth, what are you eating?
Lamb roti at Turkey and the Wolf. It’s just so damn good!
Compère Lapin is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Bywater American Bistro is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Noëmie Carrant is Resy’s senior writer. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy on Instagram and Twitter, too.