Unfussy, rustic, delicious, modern and colourful, sounds like our kind of food. Antonina Parker, chef, author and founder of NINA Food tells us about her latest publication Nina Capri; the travels which have inspired her cooking, being immersed in the Italian culture (attempting to speak Italian in a Spanish accent..!) and how family are such an important factor in her career.
Find out about the realities of starting out in the food industry, it’s not always as glamorous as travelling to St Tropez and the Amalfi Coast! Following your passions and the writing, research and publication process of Nina’s two books:
Hi Nina, please can you introduce yourself, your company and your work?
My name is Nina Parker and I am a chef and author. I have a food company called NINA Food where I do catering, popup events, parties with my classic ice cream van and supply shops with my cakes and brownies.
Can you please tell us about your career as a chef? When did your passion for cooking come about?
I have always been interested in food, but it only really took off once I left university and started work with the team at L’Anima in Liverpool Street. They taught me all the basics and I had to learn quickly on the job. It was tough but totally essential to my career and it was important to build a strong foundation with them. The minute I walked into the kitchen I fell in love with their food where everything was fresh, good quality and prepared simply with a rustic touch. I became obsessed with learning about food after those first few months.
Can you tell us about your cookery books and what recipes we can expect to find within?
The cookbooks are a food/travel/lifestyle mix. I have so far written two books, NINA St Tropez and NINA Capri which both explore the famous towns and the surrounding areas. I focus on the people, places and memories that have made these beautiful locations famous. I love the travel food theme and think that separates my books from some that are on the market at the moment. I want people to feel as though they are on a journey to these stunning places while flicking through the pages. With the newest book, Capri, I have tried to keep everything looking classic similar to the St Tropez book but at the same time I have given many dishes a lighter more healthy look. There are gluten and dairy-free options throughout but above all I enjoy creating dishes that are a mixture of healthy and delicious.
Can you tell us a little more about the writing and publishing process you went through for your new book?
The new book is officially out now! It was a complete joy to write and to shoot. I spent about 4-5 months doing the recipes and testing everything. I took three trips out to Capri for research and drove up the Amalfi Coast with my brother to find all the best local hangouts and question as many people as I could about the ‘real’ food of the region. You have to play detective when doing a project like this and I started to teach myself Italian so that I could really talk to people and uncover as much information as possible. I spoke Spanish already so it was a case of speaking Spanish in an Italian accent which was pretty amusing to the Italians I can tell you! The book is published by The Orion Publishing Group and it was part of a two-book-deal so I always knew I had to dream-up a new idea after St Tropez. My family play a huge part in helping me with my business and the creation of the books. My sister helps me with all of the styling and design which is key to getting the books looking beautiful. I couldn't do anything without my family.
Which are your favourite recipes?
I love many of the recipes in this book because they all remind me of good times and the people that I have met along the way that have provided me with great stories and traditions. I particularly love the pear chocolate frangipani tart as it is delicious but it takes me back to a wonderful teatime spent with my brother Christian overlooking the stunning port of Sant’Angelo on the island of Ischia. The marinated capers from Vittorino are also wonderful and remind me of an unforgettable afternoon boat trip with homemade wine and sunshine.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
Unfussy, rustic, delicious, modern and colourful.
What were your first jobs in London as a chef?
I worked at a commis chef in the starter section at L’Anima. I had to prepare parmigiana, boil the crabs, peel the skins off charred peppers and prepare the herbs for the garnish tray. Glamorous.
Was being an entrepreneur/self employed something you had expected from yourself?
I started thinking about having my own business before being a chef. I knew I wanted to have my own business during university and then food happened after and I worked out a way to combine the both. You just have to trust the system and do something you love and it will work out.
London has such a diverse culture. Enabling us to try different cuisine from around the world. What is your favourite type of food? And what London restaurant would you recommend going to eat it at?
I do love Italian but I really just enjoy eating food that is done properly with care. Good quality ingredients in a buzzing atmosphere is always a winner for me. I was just taken to Rok and loved it. I also went to Dinings this week which was insanely delicious.
Where is your favourite place to travel to and why?
I love the south of France as it’s where I grew up and I will always continue to go there. It has something special. Definitely a je ne sais quoi!
If you could live in any other city, which one would it be?
I am a huge fan of Madrid and use to live there but I want to spend some time in New York.
What are your future plans for your company ‘Nina’?
I would love to do a third book but who knows?!
What is your favourite food based quote?
It’s in the intro of my Capri book by Sophia Loren, “everything you see I own to pasta”! Says it all really!
What is your favourite meal to cook after a long days work?
I love a quick tomato pasta or if I am very lazy then I will go super simple and eat broccoli, avocado, rocket and a poached egg. I am sometimes extremely lazy cooking for myself so go quite boring.
Which other chefs to you admire and take inspiration from?
I love Ottolenghi for his imagination and creativity. Nigella for her chat and personality. River Cafe for their beautiful, classic, always delicious food. Francesco Mazzei (Sartoria) for taking a chance and letting me into his kitchen all those years ago.
What advice can you give to others following a similar path to you and pursuing their passions as their career?
Get as much kitchen experience as you can and do the hard graft. It is so important and I think it will eventually help you in the end. If you don’t have the passion for it then don’t do it as it is hard at times but on the positive it can be so unbelievably rewarding. I love it!
You can find Nina this Thursday at The Detox Kitchen for their supper club in celebration of Nina Capri, go and say hello! - Tickets