Nina Parker is a London based chef, writer and director of her own food company NINA. She has published two cook books NINA St Tropez and Capri and her latest book Saucy follows Nina's philosophy of eating environmentally with mainly vegan and vegetarian recipes. Saucy is, in her words: "dedicated to showcasing some of the easiest, punchiest, jaw droppingly delicious sauces from around the world."
We asked Nina if she would share her Noodle Salad, Greens, Teriyaki and Spicy Cashews recipe, tell us about her summer style and essentials as well as more about Saucy and how she got started in her career.
Please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your career journey?
After university I started work in an Italian restaurant, L’Anima in Liverpool Street, and after that I worked my way round London restaurants for a few years. In 2012 I left to start my own catering business - this included going to festivals in 70s-style ice cream truck. Since then I have written three cookbooks with the latest called Saucy which I wrote during the 2020 lockdown. As well as the private cheffing, I also create recipes on my Instagram and do restaurant reviewing.
Have you always been a foodie?
I've definitely always been a dessert and pasta person. I think the food obsession started to grown after I left uni and when I joined the team at L’Anima it exploded! I remember being overwhelmed by the produce when it arrived in the mornings. The colours and the way the chefs worked, they were artists! The tortellini, crab salad, cakes and ice cream were all out of this world! It was the best Italian food!
What's your connection to St Tropez?
I have been lucky to spend summers in the South of France and I believe this style of Mediterranean cooking has shaped the way I cook. My ice cream van and love of desserts was thanks to an ice cream parlour called Del Rey in Port Grimaud (a little town just outside St Tropez). It was owned by a Belgian couple who used to serve the most incredible waffles with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce. All of my pocket money went on this place! The produce around St Tropez is also high quality and I grew up trying garlicky prawns with my Polish grandmother and oysters. She would spend summers with our family and I learnt about rich foods from her. My Italian godmother Donatella has been and continues to be an influence in my cooking with her seemingly effortless dishes that are really filled with a lifetime of tips and techniques. I have gained so much from my time spent in and around the St Tropez area. There is a ridiculous side but when you know the locals, you know where to find the more low-key spots.
Tell us a bit more about your latest book Saucy?
Saucy is almost 4 years on from my Capri cookbook and is inspired by my travels to Mexico, Japan and California. I eat a mostly vegetarian and often vegan diet and this food always lights up with a great marinade, sauce or dressing. The recipes are a healthier look at dishes from restaurants that I’ve been to abroad and all tied together with a great sauce. My understanding was that if you had a plate of plain vegetables with a great sauce you could eat more plant-based foods without skipping on taste. The book is heavily weighted in vegan and vegetarian recipes with a few favourite meat and fish options.
Do you have a favourite sauce from Saucy?
It has to be my Asian-inspired chilli oil. It goes on absolutely everything!
Was it fun to go beyond the Med for recipe inspiration?
I wrote Saucy last year in lockdown when no one could travel but luckily I had already been to a fair few places. I do a bit of travel writing and got the opportunity to explore some countries further a field. I get so much inspiration and ideas from talking to locals, chefs and going to restaurants and Saucy picks up from these experiences in the past 4 years. Since the St Tropez and Capri book, I have cooked lots of Asian inspired food which lends itself easily to being converted into plant-based dishes. I love my job mainly because I am always learning new techniques and different types of cuisine. Saucy was especially fun to write because it really feels like my everyday type of cooking; no-fuss, healthy but big on flavour!
So many of your recipes are vegan. Are you vegan and what are your thoughts on this food philosophy?
I eat a lot of vegan food during the week but also do have butter and cheese from time to time. I changed my diet over 4 years ago now to lead a more eco life and this really works for me. I made the decision to promote this on my Instagram in the hope that it might inspire people to change a meal or two to plant-based. Since I first changed my diet it’s amazing how many more options there are in restaurants for veggies. If I can do my bit to inspire more to eat less meat that I’m happy.
What’s your dream holiday?
Mexico City is one of the coolest places I’ve been to and I love California for the beaches, food and road trips. If I could only go to one place though, its the South of France for me every time.
What are your packing essentials?
A mostly green wardrobe apparently, camera and good playlists.
Dream summer meal? What would you eat and where would you be?
As long as there is a bit of sunshine I don’t mind. It could be anywhere with my family and friends. There is a very special beach called Salins just outside St Tropez which has the most beautiful golden hour with navy parasols and rocky beach. I feature this place in my St Tropez book and it really does have a magical feel and very rustic. They do great spring rolls which my niece and nephew love and I always get the raw salad with balsamic truffle vinaigrette.
We love the restaurant recommends on your website – what are your current faves right now?
I recently went to Fallow which focuses on stainable ingredients such as cod’s head with sriracha butter and an ex dairy cow burger. The food was imaginative and delicious. I also love The Marksman pub which is round the corner from where I live and The Dusty Knuckle Bakery for the sandwich of your life!
What are you most looking forward to doing this summer as we come out of lockdown? Any plans?
I’m looking forward to finally going to some live music nights. I’ve missed dancing!
We love your style so much – what are you coveting this summer?
This is very kind thank you! I don’t actually buy that much and try to collect pieces that will last. I have just moved house so feel I have too many clothes. Haha! Despite this, I would quite like a bikini from Solid And Striped or Prism.
What are you reading right now?
What are your summer essentials?
White Converse, mini skirts, my Paradise Row “AW” leather bag, my bike, tennis racket, ice cream and mascara.