Nina Compton Shares Her Love of Pasta With New Orleans at BABs
The James Beard winner transforms her Bywater American Bistro into a haven for sophisticated comfort food
The New Orleans community has clearly embraced Nina Compton and her husband/business partner Larry Miller.
The power couple moved from Miami to New Orleans in 2015, after Compton fell in love with New Orleans while filming Top Chef: New Orleans. The move was clearly a gamble: Compton and Miller had successful careers in Miami but when New Orleans whispers in her sultry voice, there’s no denying her.
That same year, Compton and Miller opened Compère Lapin at the 77 Hotel & Chandlery in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. It was an instant success both with tourists and locals who fell instantly in love with Compton’s menu that speaks of her Caribbean roots, her formal training, her love of Italian cuisine, and her adopted New Orleans home.
For her refined yet soulful fare, she earned the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South in 2018, and Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chef in 2017. Compère Lapin was named one of Esquire’s Most Influential Restaurants of the Decade in 2019, America’s 38 Best Restaurants by Eater in 2017, and New Orleans’ 2016 Restaurant of the Year by The Times-Picayune.
In 2018, Compton and Miller opened Bywater American Bistro in the very neighborhood they call home. The restaurant, as its name implied, served bistro fare. A few weeks ago, Compton posted on Instagram that Bywater would pause service. Now, the restaurant has reopened with a refreshed name and a new menu. BABs, as it’s now known, will take advantage of the chef’s extensive pasta-making skills (she was once known as “Miami’s gnocchi queen” during her tenure at Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach). Pastas include a Wagyu beef lasagna, spaghetti carbonara with andouille and black truffles, and cavatelli with shrimp run-down sauce.
Compton tells Broken Palate that, like many restaurateurs, during the pandemic, she and her husband pivoted a lot to keep the doors open. “Thankfully, we got through it and Larry and I felt like it was time to regroup and also give the guests what they wanted. Lots of handmade pastas!”
The chef says she loves everything about pasta — from making it to eating it. “Yes, I enjoy making pasta and you’ll see it on the menu at BABs. But even on my days off, fresh pasta is always for dinner. There is something very relaxing to me about making fresh pasta - rolling, kneading, shaping, it’s soothing. “
And, more than anything, Compton is committed to being part of the New Orleans community that has welcomed her and her restaurants with open arms. “Living in New Orleans is special, and we are beyond thankful for the support from the community since we moved here. Everyone embraced us with open arms. There’s a strong sense of community in New Orleans and I love the culture. As a chef, it’s exciting to learn New Orleans traditions. I’m continuing to learn things every day.”
If you’re in New Orleans and want to experience some of the pasta of your life, a trip to BABs should absolutely be in your future.
BABs. 2900 Chartres St., New Orleans; 504-605-3827; Babs-Nola.com.