Scarpetta's Michael Pirolo and Nina Compton, Incoming and Outgoing Chefs, Talk Conant, Pomodoro, and Flavor (Part One)
|Exit Michael Pirolo, enter Nina Compton.|
The two have teamed here since Scarpetta's pre-opening, and were still together in the kitchen cooking up some of Scarpetta's new menu items while we talked. Actually, they talked. I mostly ate, trying to jot down some notes while doing so. When I did ask a question, I would generally have food in my mouth, so it would sound like this:
She's from St. Lucia, and came to Miami 11 years ago. The first part of this conversation with the two chefs includes what Nina learned from Michael at Scarpetta and from Norman Van Aken at Norman's; an unexpected guest at her tryout for the head chef position; the beauty of Scarpetta's spaghetti pomodoro; details and photos of menu items, and more.
Upon coming to Miami, it apparently didn't take Nina long to figure out who to learn cooking from: She worked under local heavyweights such as Philippe Ruiz at Palme d'Or and Norman Van Aken at the original Norman's restaurant. "Seeing Norman work with yucca, plantains, and conch opened my eyes. Coming from the Caribbean, I didn't see people doing this on a fine dining level. I realized these foods don't always have to be rustic."
|Michael plated this yellowtail with chili oil, ginger oil, pickled red onions, and a crunch of Hawaii sea salt; just about a perfect combination.|
Like the spaghetti pomodoro, I suggest, mentioning the nationally famous signature dish of Scott Conant, executive chef of Scarpetta in New York City and Miami. "It's our simplest dish, but you never get tired of it," Nina says. "It takes on a life of its own," interjects Michael. "Customers will come in and say 'I want to try the so and so, but I have to have the spaghetti pomodoro'." "It's a must," Nina adds, but both are content with that, as the dish represents the ideal of the simplicity of cooking they adhere to. "If we do 500 covers," Michael says, "we'll sell a hundred spaghetti dishes. Easily."
The scallop dish pictured below is one of Nina's creations that are new to Scarpetta's menu. "Going into spring, I wanted to keep the flavors light and refreshing."
|Diver scallops with sun choke puree, roasted Buford (Georgia) mushrooms, asparagus, pickled radish, and pine nut gremolata.|
Scott Conant was just one of "a lot of tough judges" at Nina's tryout for the chef de cuisine position. "It was with the VP of Food & Beverage Jeff Klein, the Fontainebleau executive chef Thomas Connell, and -- unannounced -- hotel owner Jeffrey Soffer. "I didn't know he was going to be there," Nina recalls. "Nobody told me until I presented my first dish. I almost clamped up -- 'What is he doing here?' It added more pressure, but they loved it."
Michael was in the kitchen helping out. Nina recalls saying to him, "'How do you want it plated?', and he replied 'No, how do you want it plated?' I said, 'Oh, right' It was so odd."
Most of chef Compton's family still resides in St. Lucia. They were all thrilled to hear of her getting the promotion, but none more so than her 97-year old grandmother. "She was so overwhelmed, she was crying," Nina recalls. "Out of my family, it was the biggest deal for her."
Tomorrow: Michael's feelings about leaving Scarpetta and moving on to Macchialina; the duo's favorite cookbooks, chefs, and local restaurants; details on two amazing new pasta dishes; and the time a surprise guest came knocking at Scarpetta's kitchen door during a busy Friday night (hint: a big superstar).
Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.