While migration scholars and researchers continue to call on Caribbean governments to find creative ways of mobilizing and engaging their Diasporas for economic and social development, there are moments when it is the Diaspora that actually provides the impetus for mobilizing the home country. This was greatly reflected in the just concluded Bravo’s Top Chef cooking show. For those who don’t know, St. Lucian born Chef Nina Compton, currently the Chef de Cuisine at the Scarpetta Restaurant at Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel, was aiming to be the first Caribbean-born chef to win the popular Bravo network TV series and boy did she come close.
On Wednesday 5th February St. Lucia and St. Lucians at home and abroad readied themselves to watch and support their very own as she competed in the finale to win the coveted American Top Chef title. From the Government level to the average man in the streets, St. Lucians got out their flags, rags and their national colours to cheer on Nina. Even though many persons at home did not have access to the television station (Bravo) public pressure called on the local television stations to air the show to the general public. We were happy also to see St. Lucia’s Prime Minister the Honorable Dr. Kenny Anthony’s public statement of support and congratulations to Nina.
And let us not forget social media. Who says Facebook doesn’t have great benefits? Well they would definitely be proven wrong in this case. I first learned about Nina being on the Top Chef TV show from my Facebook newsfeed. It then caused me to go to Bravo to check out the show and needless to say I immediately started tweeting and it and I got hooked. How could you not?
Nina was cooking up a storm in the kitchen, winning early competitions as well as the respect of her fellow competitors. Many times during the show we heard the other chefs saying “Nina is the one to watch”. It was quite clear from the start that she was in it to win it and that she was doing it for her country. Those who saw the first episode of Top Chef, would recall when Nina said “…when I was invited to be part of Top Chef, one of the things that was foremost in my acceptance of the challenge was doing my country of birth proud, and showing others what we can do.” And Nina proudly showed it, rocking her St. Lucian earrings on the show, reminiscing about her home country, its local foods, her upbringing in St. Lucia and most importantly her fusing Caribbean with French and Italian flavours to dazzle the culinary world (thanks #CheViva). We saw breadfruit, saltfish, passion fruit and indigenous recipes for curry goat and local pepper sauce. Who could forget Nina cracking that coconut like a BOSS in the Top Chef kitchen?
Back to social media though. Facebook was the place that the show got a buzz and gathered momentum. I will go further in saying that much of that initial hype must be attributed to those St. Lucians in the Diaspora who were watching Bravo and letting St. Lucians at home know what was going on. The status updates hashtagging #ChefNinaCompton, Nina’s own facebook page and that of her family members, the pictures, tweets and live streams of the show all created a buzz in social media. The tremendous out-pouring of well wishes on Nina’s Facebook page caused others to take notice. The public and private sectors at home soon caught on and joined the bandwagon (as some would say).
Although many came on board later rather than sooner, the point remains that an entire country mobilized to support its fellow country woman. It is moments like these that make us proud as Caribbean people. What Anya did for Trinidad, what Tessane did for Jamaica, Nina did for St. Lucia. Our Caribbean women are making waves in international television. They are representing their home countries with confidence, class and poise; they are drawing attention to their home countries and by extension the Caribbean. Thanks Bravo for featuring St. Lucia! St. Lucia definitely got some awesome free marketing from Nina being on this show.
When one of the judges during the finale last night said that Nina’s curry goat was sublime, he captured perfectly what Nina means to us St. Lucians…awe-inspiring and uplifting. We can’t deny the impact of all of this. St. Lucia certainly needed something to be happy about after the devastation that a trough caused the country back in December. Our people are celebrating again. Our youth at home now have a role model to look up to. If a small island girl can make it to runner up and the Fan Favourite on America’s Top Chef then anyone can achieve what they set their minds to. Not only was Nina awesome on this show, she proved that hard work, discipline and humility can take you far. As a fellow Caribbean woman I am proud at her decorum and leadership skills in the kitchen.
This is the point though, our Diasporas have a lot to offer. They include professionals making waves on the international stage; they showcase our home countries and indigenous products, they have friends and networks that can contribute to marketing, investments and trading links; and importantly they have proven that they can mobilize, inspire and move our people (especially the youth) to be better and do better. Like Nina said “there are many St. Lucians out there trying to make, and making great strides, and like me, are very proud of their roots”. In the Migration and Development discourse this is what we argue, that the Caribbean Diaspora is a valuable resource that has so much more besides remittances to offer to the home country. Now why can’t our development planners and policy makers see that? We need to see the bigger picture. Well that is a discussion for another day and another discourse.
Dr Natasha Kay Mortley is a Lecturer and Research Specialist at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica Author of “St. Lucian Women on the Move: The Impact of Gender Relations on Migration Decisions”