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Caribbean Stories: Award-Winning St Lucian Chef, Nina Compton

by Karen Rollins Mar 6, 2023

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Nina Compton - photographed by Denny Culbert
Photo credit: Denny Culbert

Award-winning St Lucian chef Nina Compton has been in love with food ever since watching her Caribbean grandmother and mother in the kitchen.

She went to culinary school in New York and started off working in some of the best restaurants in NYC and Miami.

After appearing on BRAVO’s ‘Top Chef Season 11: New Orleans’ in 2013, where she was voted fan favourite, Nina fell in love with ‘The Big Easy’ and decided to open two solo venues in the city – Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro.

Yello asked Nina to tell us more about her exceptional culinary career.

Please tell us about your childhood in St Lucia.

I had the best childhood. Very active, playing in our backyard, climbing trees (I was lucky to have a bounty in our garden), having beach limes with family and friends on Reduit Beach.

I went to school in Sans Souci and then to Castries Comprehensive, which is where I fell in love with sports, and had my first home economics class with Miss Gabriel and made my first guava jam.

So many fond memories.

What was your favourite food growing up?

I loved fruits and vegetables, especially mangoes.

How / when did you become interested in working with food?

I’ve always loved food. My granny and mum were always in the kitchen. I would often find myself there helping out when I could, and it became very natural for me.

Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?

I thought I would end up in agriculture, as that was our major industry at the time, and my father was very involved in it.

Please tell us a bit about your culinary training.

I started at Sandals Regency La Toc (in Castries). Then I went to Jamaica for two years to work at a hotel owned by a friend of my parents, that’s where I fell in love with the creativity and camaraderie of the kitchen.

My parents wanted me to get some practical training before I went to school to make sure I really wanted to do it.

I graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in 2001.

You started your professional career as an apprentice in New York with chef Daniel Boulud – what was that experience like?

It was wonderful. My goal working in NYC was to learn from the best, and I did.

In 2013 you appeared on BRAVO’s ‘Top Chef Season 11: New Orleans’ – how did you end up on the show?

They called me, and I jumped at the chance. I was able to cook Caribbean food and show people where I am from. I am very proud to be from St Lucia!

Why did you decide to stay in New Orleans and open your first solo restaurant Compère Lapin?

Louisiana has a lot of similarities to St Lucia. I wanted to bridge the gap between the two places. The food at Compère Lapin melds the flavours of my Caribbean upbringing with my love for French and Italian cuisine, along with Louisiana’s beautiful indigenous ingredients.

I was also fond of Compère Lapin (traditional Caribbean folktales featuring a mischievous rabbit) as a child. If you talk to anyone about it on the island, it takes them back to their childhood.

Please tell us about the idea behind Bywater American Bistro which opened in March 2018?

The concept is different from Compère Lapin. Bywater is smaller and more neighbourhood focused.

The food is contemporary American, focusing on seasonal ingredient-driven cuisine in a casual setting.

How have your restaurants been evolving?

I have tried to keep the focus on having things that people are not expecting.

What has been your proudest achievement as a chef so far?

Winning a James Beard award.

How does being St Lucian / Caribbean influence your work?

I use it to educate people on how beautiful the Caribbean is, not just the food and landscape, but also the people.

What is your favourite ingredient to work with?


What advice do you have for budding Caribbean chefs?

Stay focused, and don’t lose sight of who you are.

What do you do on your days off?

I am a homebody. Nothing makes me happier than being home with my dogs and reading outside.

What do you miss most about St Lucia?

Everything! The people, the beach, the food, and my family.

What is your motto / philosophy in life?

Live life to the fullest.

You can follow Nina Compton on social media:

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/ninacompton/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/chefninacompton/

Twitter (Compere Lapin) – https://twitter.com/comperelapin