Just a little bit of assurance from others could sometimes be the big confidence booster a person is seeking.
St. Lucian chef, Nina Compton, almost turned down the opportunity to participate in the 2013-14 edition of the award-winning series, “Top Chef”.
“I was a little bit nervous and I was not sure I could do it,” she told Share while in Toronto last week. “When I consulted with my boss at Scarpetta (a restaurant in Miami Beach she worked at until last July) and my husband, they assured me I could do it.”
Chefs compete against each other in culinary challenges in the American reality show on cable television network, Bravo.
Compton was the runner-up in the 19-field competition and the fan favourite winner.
“It was a fantastic experience,” she said of her appearance on the show that was filmed in New Orleans and Maui. “I challenged myself to think outside the box and I became more creative by expressing myself through food.”
Capitalizing on Compton’s success, the St. Lucia Tourist Board (SLTB) appointed her the island’s first culinary ambassador.
“We knew we had a great culinary product, but we have never done a lot with it up to this point,” said Tracy Warner Arnold, the SLTB deputy director of tourism, who accompanied Compton to Ottawa and Toronto last week. “Her appearance on the show generated huge interest back home and it was very evident to us that she is the ideal person to highlight and showcase our unique culinary product. She’s genuine, humble and very patriotic.”
Compton said her interest in cooking emerged during frequent visits back home from England, where she spent two years completing her secondary school education.
“It started off with me helping my mom in the kitchen and as I became more comfortable, I did the entire meal,” she said. “On Sundays, my nephews and nieces would come over and we would have a good time. It was like a little restaurant at our residence with them serving and everybody eating, drinking, chatting and just having a good time. When I told my mom I wanted to become a chef, she cautioned me that cooking at home for relatives is different than working at a restaurant.”
Compton was not to be deterred.
After stints at Caribbean hotels, she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 2001 and worked at Daniel in New York before moving to Miami and working with several upscale restaurants, including Scarpetta where – as the lead chef as of April 2012 – she introduced exciting new items to the menu.
As her island’s culinary ambassador, Compton has been busy in the last few months. She participated in a series of online chats in the summer and is doing food demonstrations and media appearances in the Caribbean, Europe and North America.
On her second visit to Canada, she prepared the opening dinner at the Ottawa Food & Wine show, hosted an event in the nation’s capital as guest chef at Navarra, which is owned by 2014 Top Chef Canada winner, Rene Rodriguez and prepared a three-course meal for the media and travel trade partners at an event in downtown Toronto.
Starting with spiced chocolate soup with foie gras and baby vegetables, guests were treated an entrée of cocoa braised short ribs, polenta and baby vegetables and pumpkin bandino, salted carmel and chocolate crumble.
Compton said she’s relishing her new role.
“It allows me to travel, cook and educate people about amazing Caribbean cuisine,” she said. “It’s the perfect job.”
The chef comes from good stock as her father was John Compton, St. Lucia’s first Prime Minister, who died in September 2007.
Compton said her Vincentian-born father loved making fresh juices and one-pot meals.
“He would put lots of fresh vegetables, some coconut milk and fish or meat in the pot,” she said. “His meal was very good and rich.”
Despite his busy schedule, Compton said her father spent quality time with her and her four siblings.
“He taught me to be humble, to mentor whenever I could and also not to show any sign of weakness,” she said. “He was disciplined and he enjoyed life.”
Compton plans to open a restaurant in Miami, where she resides with her husband.
Her ultimate goal is to return to St. Lucia and live above her beach restaurant.
“That’s my retirement plan,” she proudly said.