May 09 2016

Chef Nina Clemente's Amalfi Coast, Art-Inspired Menu at The Standard Plaza

New York-Table Talk
Her new menu is a product of warm Italian summers, an art-filled childhood, and a mother who fed New York's starving artists.
This summer, our public square at Washington Ave and 13th St—also known as The Standard Plaza—will be transformed into an Italian piazza complete with pergola, wood-fired pizza, people watching, and al fresco dining par excellence. We couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to head up this heady blend of cultures than chef Nina Clemente. The daughter of legendary New York artists Francesco and Alba Clemente, she grew up in New York watching her mother feed luminaries of the art scene and spending summers experiencing the foundational elements of Italian cuisine in her mother’s home village on the Amalfi Coast. Later, she found her calling as a personal chef in Hollywood and an apprentice in some of the most intense kitchens in the world. At The Standard, High Line, she’ll be recreating the warm, open kitchens she grew up in, while infusing an artistic spirit into every dish.
The Standard
The Standard
From Italy to New York and Back Again: “My parents were the first generation to immigrate to the US. Every summer for three months, I went back to my mom’s tiny seaside town on the Amalfi Coast. We had a garden where I would pick the wild arugula, tomatoes, and eggplant for dinner that night. Summer in Italy was beautiful. We lived 200 steps up the hill, so any time we forgot the bread, or had to go get a fresh mozzarella, we had to earn it in a physical way. At home in New York, my mom was the feeder. She used to make food for everybody—all of the starving artists. In the early ’80s, they were actually starving. My mom made it look so effortless—cigarette in her left hand, wooden spoon stirring pasta in the other. Maybe a little ash falls in. No big deal. I grew up with the tradition of dinner at home every night—pasta, fish or meat, vegetables, salad. It really became ingrained in me.”

Her First Act: Hollywood “By total chance, I ended up living in Venice, California just a block away from Lauren Hutton, who is like a godmother to me. I started cooking and telling people that I was her private chef, which in LA, you know—it did ‘the thing.’ I started booking work, and I basically took on any job that would come my way. I was 26. I was figuring it out, and doing something I really loved.”

The Standard

The World’s a Culinary School: “I would cater and work as a private chef to make enough money to go work for free for a couple months somewhere in the world. I did that in St. Barth’s. I know it sounds so bourgeois, but it was really, really intense. Six days a week, long hours, no A/C, all French and Swiss men who were looking at me like, “What the fuck are you doing here?” Oh, and I didn’t speak French beyond some high school classes. I was working with European chefs who were dipping their fingers in the salsa. 

And then I worked in Northern Italy in a restaurant called Piazza Duomo that just got its third Michelin Star. I worked under an incredible avant-garde chef named Enrico Crippa—a genius, but polar opposite to anyone I’d worked with before. It was a completely silent kitchen, as in you couldn’t speak. In the beginning, I’d be collecting the pots to bring to the dish pit, and without fail I’d drop them and make a huge racket.”

The Real Kitchens of Beverly Hills: “I’d have clients who would be like, “Oh, I’m only having this, or not eating that. I can only have 800 calories a day. Figure it out.” Some people would tell me I couldn’t cook with oil. I’m Italian. Olive oil is in my veins. So, you know, that’s where all the creativity happened. It forced me to try things I’d never done before.”
<h3>A custom designed scarf for The Standard Plaza by Nina's father, Francesco Clemente.</h3>

A custom designed scarf for The Standard Plaza by Nina's father, Francesco Clemente.

The Standard Plaza:  “The menu is inspired by the Mediterranean and Southern Italy—very vegetable-and-seafood driven. [Southern Italy’s] renowned for its mozzarella and olive oils. All of my pizzas are the very traditional Southern Italian pizzas I grew up with. I take this concept of breaking bread very seriously. For me, cooking is about bridging cultural gaps and bringing people together across all boundaries. I genuinely enjoy watching people eat my food, and I want to feed people. I’m not trying to make a statement. I’m just trying to feed people good and beautiful food.”

A Family Affair: “Having an incredible painter as a father, there was this feeling of, “Oh my God, how am I going to follow in those footsteps?” I found a creative outlet that’s very different from painting, but is my own artistic expression. My dad actually designed a beautiful scarf that the servers will be wearing, and my mom’s going to help design the menus. We’re pulling all of those elements from the family into this project, which is really sweet and exciting.”
<h3>Join us at The Standard Plaza (corner of West 13th Street and Washington Street). No reservations needed! &nbsp;Serving food 'til 2am.&nbsp;</h3>

Join us at The Standard Plaza (corner of West 13th Street and Washington Street). No reservations needed!  Serving food 'til 2am. 

Christopher Leaman