Having worked with Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Daniel Boulud and renowned chef Alex Lee at Daniel Restaurant in New York City, Nina Compton learned from some of the best before taking her craft down to the sunny melting pot of Miami. There she connected with top culinary names in South Florida, including Norman Van Aken at Norman’s and Philippe Ruiz at Four-Star Palme d’Or. She later made her way from sous chef to executive chef at Casa Casuarina, a private club and boutique hotel in Miami Beach. Today, she is the chef de cuisine at Four-Star Scarpetta Miami Beach inside the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, where she’s known for her simple-but-impeccable spaghetti.
Sitting inside the iconic space with its nautical Old World sophistication and picturesque views of the ocean, we were happy to indulge in authentic Italian cuisine and enticing conversation with the woman behind the menu:
Who are your role models in the food industry?
Chef Scott Conant (who opened Scarpetta New York and Miami Beach) has really been a mentor to me and helped me grow into the chef that I am today. Also, executive chef Michael Pirolo at Macchialina has helped me realize that having fun in the kitchen can make you feel so much younger. Working with chefs such as Daniel Boulud has taught me how to be disciplined in the kitchen.
What is your favorite Italian dish to make and why?
I love making gnocchi and have been crowned the “gnocchi queen” in my kitchen. Making pasta is something very personal for me, and making these beautiful and delicious “pillows” brings me happiness.
Tell us why you feel your spaghetti is the best in town. What makes it so different?
Our spaghetti is the best because everything is made in-house, including the sauce and the pasta. We pay very close attention to sourcing the finest ingredients, which truly make all the difference when working with such few ingredients for a simple dish. It’s all about allowing the ingredients to shine through.
Can you let us in on any recipe secrets? How do you make your food stand out from other top restaurants in Miami?
The key to making an amazing dish starts within yourself, as silly as it sounds. It begins with being happy, because the mood you’re in translates to the food. Happiness is contagious in our kitchen; we all take pride in our jobs and the food we make.
What are your thoughts on Italian classic food? Do you feel simple is better?
The food at Scarpetta is so simple. Working with Scott Conant has made me realize that cooking with a small amount of ingredients that have been treated well makes the simplest dishes the greatest by highlighting the purest flavors.
Can you tell us about your summer menu? Anything new we need to try?
I love summer. I try to incorporate it into the menu by making it light, fresh and flavorful. Some new dishes include Mediterranean octopus (potatoes, capers and olives) and the Black gemelli (Dungeness crab, vongole clams, corn and chilles). One of my favorites is the smoked potato crema and Gaeta olives.
What do you think about the Miami dining scene? How does it compare to other cities?
Miami’s dining scene has come a long way in the past five years. Many amazing chefs have brought their talents here and local chefs have really made the city what it is today. We have truly elevated the dining experience and helped put Miami on the map as a true culinary destination. The city has also opened its doors to numerous gastropubs that are producing exceptional flavors and unique beverage programs. Another great thing about Miami is the international cuisines offered. You can basically dine around the world in a week.
What is your favorite thing about Miami?
The weather and beach are my favorite aspects of Miami, hands down. I am from St. Lucia and feel very at home here. I enjoy working hard and driving to work on my Vespa every day. Who can argue with that?
Photo Courtesy of Fontainebleau Miami