Friday, February 26, 2016

“Top Chef” Nina Compton Finds Success

CIA Alum Finds Success in The Big Easy

I became aware of Chef Nina Compton ’00 back in October of 2013, the same time that millions of other viewers of “Top Chef” did. The thing that struck me about her was her ability to always produce exceptionally polished and well-balanced dishes. Watching her devise, then cook these dishes was similar to watching an artist conceptualize and then produce beautiful paintings. I believe that I was just as shocked as the rest of America when she was announced as the runner up that season. Thankfully for us all, Chef Compton remained posed and driven. After having been at the helm of CIA alum Scott Conant’s Scarpetta Miami, she left in 2014, resurfacing in New Orleans just last year.

Chef Compton opened Compère Lapin in New Orleans in the Central Business District. Perhaps the greatest description of this restaurant can be found on its website:
“Inspiration for the menu comes from the traditional Caribbean folktales featuring a mischievous rabbit named Compère Lapin that Chef Nina Compton read during her childhood in St. Lucia. Drawing on the story’s themes of exploration and play, she mixes the indigenous ingredients and rich culinary heritage of New Orleans with those of her Caribbean roots.”
 While I was home for Christmas break, my dad and I had the chance to dine at Compère Lapin. Eating at this gem of a restaurant was both thrilling and inspiring. While I did not get the chance to talk to Chef Compton during my visit, I was able to talk to her once I had returned to CIA.

Chef Nina Compton, from
Sarah Lubitz: First of all, I want to say that I enjoyed eating at your restaurant when I was home.

Nina Compton: Oh, thank you.

SL: It was wonderful. I got the curried goat.

NC: Oh, good, good, good.

SL: I know that you filmed “Top Chef” in New Orleans. Was that a big deciding factor for you when you decided to open a restaurant there?

NC: I always wanted to live in the city. My husband and I, we wanted to have our honeymoon here, but it didn’t work out. So, when we filmed the show here, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the charm of the city. It does have a lot of soul; it has a lot of character. And, I think for a chef, having people that really enjoy eating out, I think that it’s a big thing. I think for me, it was an easy move to open a restaurant here.

SL: How has New Orleans changed the way that you look at food?

NC: I’ve only been here for nine months, and, when I moved here, they’d just had the ten year anniversary of Katrina. Speaking to a lot of locals, you try to understand what they go through, and I don’t think people really understand what they went through when Katrina hit. And, to rebuild and get to where they are ten years later I think is huge, because you would never know that the whole city was wiped out. You hear different stories of what people went through and people almost say that it’s a good thing that it happened because it was able to start fresh. So, to be able to rebuild the city to where it is right now I think that’s a great thing. There are so many restaurants opening up, there are so many hotels. I think the economy is better than it has ever been, post and pre Katrina. I think that that’s really a great thing.

SL: I know, for me, that I grew up two hours away, so being able to watch the city rebuild was really inspiring. It’s hard for me to even keep up with the amount of restaurants that are opening right now, so I think it’s really great as well.
SL: One of the biggest issues that we are focusing on right now is sustainability. What do you think are some of the biggest issues that we are facing in the industry regarding sustainability?

NC: I think you see it in a lot of restaurants now, and people are a lot more conscious of certain species that they want on their menus. Some species are being overfished, and I strongly believe in that. Things like Chilean sea bass are being overfished. I think supporting the farms, especially local farms, because the city of New Orleans has so many farms around it, it’s a very big thing to support. That’s one of the things that I try to have on my menu, supporting the local farmers, getting the goats from the local farms, getting the pigs. The vegetables are from twenty miles away, not even. But, getting those things in, it makes a difference.

SL: How do you feel that the landscape has changed for women in the industry?

NC: I think it’s changed a lot. I think it’s an even playing field for women in the kitchen. I think that you always have to try harder and excel because, for a very long time, it was a man’s kitchen, which is funny because “a woman’s place is in the kitchen.” I think now that you see a lot of really good female chefs that are coming out on top and are really pushing to get things done and get recognized. I don’t think that it’s as sexist as it used to be. I think people are more open-minded to female chefs; we’re not frowned upon in the kitchen.

SL: Who has inspired you the most as far as cooking concerned?

NC: A lot of people played parts in my career. My grandmother was always cooking in the kitchen. My mom loved baking, so I grew up around that. I also got into cooking because I enjoy eating, and I enjoy making people happy. As a child, I would cook for my family. And seeing the reactions on their faces, it made such a difference. I think that’s why people cook, because the want to make people happy. That’s a genuine feeling.

SL: I know you graduated in 2000. How has CIA influenced your career?

NC: Hugely. I definitely wanted to go to one of the best facilities in the country, if not the world, and learn from the best. I think it’s a great facility. It’s definitely one of the best in terms of providing the right tools and knowledge for young cooks. I don’t think anybody has kitchens or wine programs available like that. It’s so well versed. Having different guest chefs doing cooking demos or speaking to students, I think that’s huge. And I don’t think that anywhere else does that as well as the CIA does.

SL: What is the most important thing that you took away from being a student here?

NC: To be discipline, organized, and very professional. I think that the way that you carry yourself shows. You see the way that people from the CIA carry themselves, and it’s different. It’s more polished, more refined. I think they have a better chance of excelling in any program or in any restaurant because of the tools that they have been given.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Humans of CIA

“ Why did you choose foodwhere is your idealism, or some of your aspirations?”
“ What made you choose the CIA?”
“ Where do you want to take your career?”

Stephanie Smida
Hometown: Lagrangeville, NY
Major: Baking and Pastry / Culinary Science

When I was in fifth grade, I came on a tour here. I was really amazed with everything I saw. I told myself this is where I wanted to go, and when I was deciding what I wanted to do, I still wanted to go here.

Location was a big part of choosing the CIA. I saw chefs teaching smaller amount of students, and I wanted more individual attention from the chefs themselves. 

Right now I am in Research and Development for Culinary Science. I want to focus on Dietary Restrictions such as gluten free, dairy free and vegan on a large production scale, which is slowly up and coming. 

Danny Seo
Hometown: Carmel, IN
Major: Culinary Arts
Growing up my dad was in the food industry. Culinary school was my second option, and pre-vet was my first option. I chose this instead of med school. So far I am very happy with my decision here. Also, growing up in high school, my family has always motivated me to go to culinary school. 

My oldest sister was one of my mentors—she gives really good advice. She's from New York, too, so she recommended it, and I usually listen to what she has to say. I live in Texas now, and there is a CIA campus there. I chose here because I trust my family’s opinion.

I want to see myself working in different restaurants, having a leader that I enjoy learning from, and being in a position where I can gain the most skills. 

Hernan Angarita
Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela
Major: Culinary Science

I was working as a line cook in Venezuela. I was working with Edgar Leal, a CIA grad. We did events; I was his sous chef. He told me I should get some recognition worldwide and he said the CIA was the best choice. He referred me to here, and here I am.

I chose the CIA since it's the best school; there is no better school here on the continent. 

I want to drive away from the whole Michelin star concept. The modernist idealism is great, but it's different from every day eating. I want to make good foodwell-crafted foodwith simple, good, clear flavors. I'm going to use some of the cooking techniques I've learned here, such as fermentation, and apply them to Latin American cuisine.

Ezio Bertorelli
Hometown: Caracas, Venezuela. 
Major: Business Management, Intrapreneurship Concentration

As a kid, the first real dinner I made was a really fancy dinner menu for 15 people. I had just turned 14 years old. When I cook I get this very strange feeling of very intense emotion. Nothing gives me this emotion in the same way, and I want to do it for the rest of my life.

I chose the CIA because I had graduated from culinary school in Italy and I decided I was too young to start my own business, so I decided to keep studying. So all the recommendations I had said come here.

In the future, I want to have my own restaurant. I still haven't decided what I want it to be. But it’s going to be very creative and the food will be inspired by art and nature. It’s going to be very different, not what everyone else is going to be doing. The food is going to be amazing. 

Kaylee Gill
Hometown: Woodriver, NE
Major: Baking and Pastry / Culinary Science 

I visited CIA at the end of junior year in high school and I loved it. I never considered baking a career until sophomore year; there are not many technical schools in the Mid-West. I’ve been interested in food from a young age. It was between University of Nebraska-Lincoln for food science, but I chose passion over that, and here I am.

I chose the CIA. Mainly I wanted to get out of Nebraska. I wanted to come to what’s donned as the best culinary school, for food and science. I wanted to just try something new.

My ultimate goal is hopefully something I enjoy and where I’m helping people at the same time.  I have always loved scienceand baking, the imperialism and science that baking has, I love. I am currently looking at, well, many things. I wanted to get back into fine dining, more on the test kitchen side. I externed at Blue Hill and I really appreciate what they're doing there. I grew up on a farm. I am hoping to introduce more affordable healthy foods because that's definitely lacking.