often, it's the most UNEXPECTED INGREDIENTS that WORK WILDLY WELL TOGETHER – IT HAPPENS WITH FOOD AND IT certainly HAPPENS WITH FRIENDSHIPS. HERE, IN AN EXCLUSIVE PEEK AT PORTER MAGAZINE'S UPCOMING ISSUE, ICON LAUREN HUTTON REVEALS THE DYNAMICS OF HER bond WITH goddaughter and star CHEF, NINA CLEMENTE.
My mother was not a good cook. She knew how to dress and arrange flowers, but I was raised on frozen dinners. The minute I learned there was better food out there, I became a serious foodie and Nina, who is a spectacular chef, has been my guide. I even ask her advice while I’m cooking; she’ll get phone calls from me saying, “I have a tomato, three leaves of basil and a stick of celery, what do I do?”
We first met in New York, when Nina was just nine months old. I was friends with her parents who lived one street away: her father is the Italian artist Francesco Clemente, while her mother, Alba, an actress, is also from Italy. They hosted fabulous meals in their home, which once belonged to Bob Dylan, and it soon became a gathering spot for artists from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Keith Haring. There in the middle of it all was a beautiful young girl who always had a scowl on her face: Nina.
Nina says the beauty of our relationship is that we can yell at each other and joke about it an hour later. Sometimes I’m motherly and she’s daughterly. It’s a nice balance. She says I’ve given her a lot of confidence over the years even though she often tells me when to shut up. In food, Nina has found her passion. But she has also inherited her artistic parents’ work ethic: they are two incredibly creative people, both really hard-working. When she told me she wanted to start her own restaurant, I did everything I could to dissuade her. Good chefs have to get up at 5.30am to find the best produce and they’re still working in the kitchen at midnight. It’s a seriously tough job. Nina ignored me, and she has worked hard and trained in incredible restaurants around the world: Osteria Mozza with Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali in LA, Maya’s in St. Barths, and with Enrico Crippa at his three-Michelin-starred Piazza Duomo in Italy.
I’ve supported her – but she’s also helped me. A while back, I remember wanting to impress a sweetheart with a meal, so I called Nina and she cooked me something which I am ashamed to say I pretended was my own. Nina thought it was so romantic; she prepped everything so it looked like I’d been slaving over a pot all day. (Incidentally, neither Nina nor I have ever married. We both share the view: ‘Why spoil a good relationship?’)
Nina works with a co-executive chef now, Michael Reed, and they started doing pop-up restaurants in LA last year with a farm-to-table style of cookery. She invents tastes and puts them together. She comes from such enormously creative parents, it’s no wonder. Nina calls herself a “food artist” and says the plate is her canvas, and the flavours, colours and smells are all her palette. “Food is art in its best form,” she says, and Los Angeles should pay attention to her. This town is the pleasure capital of the world, and Nina’s cooking is pure pleasure. I know, because I’ve tasted it.