“Top Chef” finalist Nina Compton, whose father led the Eastern Caribbean island to independence as prime minister, spent the 11th season of Bravo’s culinary competition wowing the judges with her St. Lucian spin on cuisine.
Compton didn’t win “Top Chef.” (She was robbed. But that’s another story.) She did, however, shine a light on the eclectic gastronomy of this lush, volcanic outpost of the West Indies.
“Caribbean food is very rustic,” Compton said in a phone interview from her adopted home of New Orleans, where she opened her first restaurant, Compere Lapin, over the summer. “The African slaves brought a lot of ingredients, such as breadfruit and different yams. They made rich, hearty stews. We have French influences as well. British. Indian. It’s a melting pot of all these different cultures, providing a beautiful platform to cook.”
It doesn’t hurt that verdant St. Lucia is basically a 238-square-mile pantry stocked with an enviable assortment of fresh ingredients, from avocados, peppers and dozens of varieties of mangoes to vines of vanilla snaking up the trunks of tropical trees.
In the mid-1900s, sugar cane gave way to bananas — called green figs — as the island’s main cash crop. Unripe bananas are a key component of St. Lucia’s national dish, green fig and salt fish.