Nyesha Arrington Tells All About Next Level Chef And Food Sustainability - Exclusive Interview

Food sustainability is gaining traction — and Nyesha Arrington's cooking tips will help the concept along. The celebrity chef prides herself on using farm-fresh and responsibly sourced ingredients that promote local businesses. Arrington currently judges on "Next Level Chef" alongside Gordon Ramsay and Richard Blais, and Season 2 is planned to premiere after the Super Bowl on February 12.

In an exclusive interview, Tasting Table sat down with Arrington at the Sun Wine & Food Fest, hosted by Mohegan Sun, to talk about her most recent farmers market find, her best food waste tips, and her most recent eats on a trip to Jamaica. The "Top Chef" contestant also disclosed the restaurants she visited with Ramsay and Blais while filming in London (which we are totally adding to our eatery list) and the culinary advice she learned from her fellow co-hosts. Yes, salmon skin can actually be utilized as a chip garnish.

Fun outings after Next Level Chef

I wanted to talk about your fried chicken demo [at the Sun Wine & Food Fest]. You mentioned rice flour in your batter. How does that elevate the flavor of fried chicken as a whole?

There's a few things, actually. Rice flour is naturally gluten free, so it adds a lot of lightness to the batter itself. It adds almost a light chewiness. It bonds the AP flour to the corn starch, so it's speaking to a lot of the layers and the levels of the crispness and crunchiness. Being able to add three different types of flour adds to the level of lightness that the chicken has itself. 

"Next Level Chef" was filmed in Vegas [last season]. Did you, Gordon Ramsay, and Richard Blais have any fun Vegas outings?

Yeah. This season, we shot in London. Last season, we shot in Las Vegas. Every night was the most incredible night ever. We get on set [at] about 5:00 a.m., and then after, we go to dinner. I was able to go to some really incredible Indian restaurants. That was the standout — specifically, a place called Gunpowder. That was impeccable. Also, Pahli Hill was really impeccable. Lyle's. The restaurant outings were the best part of it.

Since you and Ramsay both live in LA, have you guys had the opportunity to hang out and check out food spots in Los Angeles too?

He's a busy man, so I see him more on sets than I see him in real life. But the time spent with him is incredible. I have a huge smile on my face because he's the man. He's really, really, really cool, and I'm really grateful to work next to him.

You can reuse salmon skin

Are there any cooking tips that you have taught Chef Ramsay or Richard Blais, or vice versa, that you still carry with you now?

The idea around sustainability and celebrating vegetables was something that stuck with me when I did cooking demos. For example, I made this confit salmon dish and then made a crispy ... taking off the salmon skin and making a chip with it. It was so interesting. It was almost like a salmon-skin chicharron. [I] had this beautiful confit salmon, and then I garnished it with crispy salmon skin, so it was like a byproduct of salmon. It's a way to be sustainable. That was a really big standout moment.

I love that you brought that up because I was going to bring up how you're well known for locally sourcing or using farm-fresh ingredients. What are your most recent farmers market finds, and how do you use them?

Great question. My most recent farmers market find was turnips that I got from Coleman Farms. I made kimchi out of it — I made it last week — and it was freaking amazing, actually. Can't wait to get back home and eat it. The turnips are killing the game right now, and it's a really under-celebrated vegetable.

Make chicken stock with a rotisserie chicken

Do you have any tips for kimchi for beginners looking to make it?

The beauty in kimchi making is the probiotics that you get out of kimchi that are really good for gut health. A tip for kimchi would be to kimchify [things other than] cabbage. It could be collard greens. It can be different radishes. My biggest tip for kimchi is to think outside of the box, outside of Napa cabbage.

In regards to food waste, what are some food items that are usually discarded but should be used? I know you just mentioned the salmon skin.

Oh my god, I have so many tips. I always have a bowl in my fridge or my freezer when I cook throughout the week, and I'll save carrot tops or fennel tops or onion trim, and then I make a vegetable stock or a chicken stock out of it. Also, if I buy a rotisserie chicken, I always save the bones and put them in the freezer, and then I boil it all and make a chicken stock. It's the best. It's like free food. [When] I actually make a stock, I freeze it into ice [cube] trays because I'm a single girl, so it's like, do I need to pull out a whole five quarts of chicken stock? No, but maybe I need two ice cubes of it, and I can make a quick pan sauce with it.

Secondly, my favorite, favorite thing [is that] I probably have five avocado baby trees growing in different stages. That started as a pandemic journey of sprouting these avocado seeds. So don't throw [those] away. You put them in water and then put them in dirt, and you can have an avocado tree in 10 years. And also what's really, really, really cool is the bottoms of scallions. I put them in dirt, and then you can grow new scallions. It takes three weeks, and you'll have a whole new scallion tree.

Nyesha Arrington's Jamaica trip

I saw on your Instagram that you recently traveled to Jamaica, which looked awesome. Throughout your travels, is there a dish or ingredient that stood out to you the most?

My god, I never wanted to leave Jamaica. Last year I [went to] Bali [and] Morocco. It was incredible. An ingredient that stood out the most — that's hard. I'm going to just [give an answer for] Jamaica because it's the most recent standout memory. I literally ate snapper every single day, red snapper, because true red snapper is hard to find. A lot of people will call rockfish red snapper, or [call] different fish [red snapper], because it's the same flesh color, but true freaking red snapper is incredible. That's definitely a standout because I watched the guys pluck it out of the ocean.

Do you have any exciting projects that [we] can look forward to in addition to "Next Level Chef"?

Yeah, I have some really exciting projects coming up, but I can't say a lot about them right now.

Season 2 of "Next Level Chef" premieres on Fox on February 12, after the Super Bowl. For more information about the Sun Wine & Food Fest, visit Mohegan Sun's website. And keep up with Nyesha Arrington's latest projects on her Instagram page