Nigel Robertson, Travelers Rest
If you’ve lived in Greenville long, Nigel Robertson’s face is likely a familiar one. In many Upstate homes, the Emmy-winning news anchor appears like clockwork every evening to report the day’s news. On this Saturday afternoon, though, he has ditched the suit for jeans and is working in another favorite capacity: chef.
Nigel is a first generation American, his family hailing from Trinidad and Tobago. His father came to the United States in 1969 on a work visa, was hired by General Motors, and became a citizen just before Nigel was born. As a boy, Nigel’s stomach was filled “constantly” with his grandmother’s West Indian food: rice, peas and curry. It wasn’t until he started college at Bowling Green University in Ohio—where there wasn’t a Caribbean restaurant to be found—that he took up cooking for himself. “If I wanted to taste home,” Nigel remembers, “I had to learn how to make it myself.” He stuck it with it because cooking impressed a girl he liked (with whom he now has three sons).
But even back then he wasn’t left completely to his own devices. He has one special ingredient up his sleeve: authentic Trinidadian curry powder. His mother, who currently lives in South Florida, is sure to bring back a jar of “the good curry” every time she visits Trinidad. Nigel reaches into the cabinet and proudly presents a large, green jar of the good curry, sealed with crinkled foil and a rubber band. He has to ration it until another family member visits the island, which is okay because, he advises, “A little curry goes a long way.”
As he cooks, Nigel wears his famous smile and gesticulates wildly, his enthusiasm for cooking evident. When the subject of Bobby Flay comes up, his eyes widen. He once spotted the celebrity chef at his restaurant in New York and begged him for a photograph. Nigel remembers, “My wife said, ‘People come up to you like this, and now you’re acting this way with Bobby Flay?’ But of all the celebrities Nigel has met (Barack and Michelle Obama among them), Bobby Flay was the first to bring out his inner fan.
Curry dishes—made with shrimp, goat or beef—are a staple of the Trinidadian diet. The dish is often accompanied by roti, a flatbread made with chickpeas that’s everywhere on the island. Since roti “takes forever to make,” Nigel usually serves his chicken curry on store-bought tortillas in an attempt to make it more family-friendly. He hasn’t passed on the family tradition of curries just yet, since his sons “want everything separate on their plates” and won’t eat it. Perhaps their minds will change when they finally travel as a family to Trinidad, a trip Nigel has been anticipating for years.
Holidays, Nigel explains, boast “a spread you can’t possibly consume”: salt fish with cherry tomatoes, onions and peppers, fried bake (a popular breakfast bread), then curry later in the day followed by Callaloo crab, and macaroni and cheese. Until his sons can one day appreciate the foods of their father’s heritage—perhaps not until they’re themselves trying to impress a girl in a college dorm room—Nigel will keep all the good curry for himself.