Reggae Reggae Sauce creator and Dragons Den Star Levi Roots will be headlining Northampton’s first Food Festival on May 14-15. Tanya Raybould talks to him about what visitors to the show can look forward to, who taught him to cook and his own favourite kind of food.
“Food is fun, the kitchen is not a boring place, you should be able to express yourself and combine your music, your food and your ingredients in much the same way an orchestra does on stage. I don’t literally throw my guitar in the pot,” laughs the charismatic chef.
We chat about what visitors to the festival will see when the he will be bringing his own unique style of demonstrating to the Food Festival at Becket’s Park.
“I think I want to do something special. I really want to do my Martinique Chicken curry recipe because it’s one of my favourites,” he said.
Levi tells us it is not his first visit to Northampton, having visited several times before and he’s looking forward to the festival in May. I ask him how cooking in front of an audience differs from the TV work.
“I will have my guitar with me,” he laughs
“When cooking on TV you literally have the constraints of say the BBC or the cameras and there’s always some kind of plan -you always get the best of me when I don’t have a plan, just give me the stage, a mic and some ingredients,” he said.
So does the 57 year old chef follow a recipe?
“I don’t, I cook Caribbean food, which is the newest cuisine out there, so there’s so much more for me to express myself with. I still try to create things as I go along personally, but that’s me. I think for people that don’t know the cuisine there are books and restaurants popping up all over the place and people aren’t afraid any more.”
Obviously he is a massive fan of spices, if he were to be stranded on a Caribbean island, what would he want to have with him?
“Definitely pimento or all spice. I would want to create some flavours if I could catch the fish on the dessert island,” he said.
Visitors to the festival can be sure to pick up some tips, as Levi adds: “Be very careful with your measurements when it comes to herbs and spices. I think with the attitude of people like myself and Jamie (Oliver), we know what we’re doing throwing it in but it’s for TV purposes, in real life, be careful of very hot spices and very pungent flavours because once you’ve put it in you can’t take it out, so it’s always better to start very slowly, put in on the scales first and be very careful!”
He recalls who taught him to cook.
“There are two teachers. I often talk about my grandma because of the sauce. But I really learnt to cook properly when I actually came to this country and met my mum, who I didn’t really know much because she left me when I was quite a young boy to come here.
“Being the youngest, she left me when I was about four and we came over one by one, so I didn’t really have much memory if her until it was my time to come over. Hers was a different style of cooking to what my grandma was cooking, which was pretty much caveman style, she’d have the pot on top and some brambles underneath but still the flavours were fantastic and the best flavours that I can ever remember even now when I’m cooking, but my mum had a cooker in the kitchen. I don’t remember my grandma doing much baking because she didn’t have an oven.
“I suppose my mum taught me cooking like a Ferrari and my Grandma was like a horse and cart,” he said.
Spices may be his thing, but he admits he also has an incredibly sweet tooth.
“I do exercise a lot so there is a balance there, there’s nothing wrong with that. I did a pecan brownie which has ginger and pecan and I was eating those in the morning so that’s naughty, there was nothing left on my plate,” he said.
It is over ten years now since Levi came to the attention of the Nation on Dragons Den, but does he keep in touch with the Dragons?
“Peter Jones has been with me on the journey, he has always been a mentor, but over the years he has become more of a good friend. It’s brilliant how you can nurture, how he and I have grown over the journey together. We have just opened our first restaurant and our journey continues, but I bought my shares back from the other dragon Richard Farleigh some years ago.”
The restaurant he talks of, or the ‘rastaurant’ as he corrects me, is named ‘Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse’ and has opened in London, so what’s next for the entrepreneur?
“People now want to to come and try Caribbean food. We have a long way to go to talk about getting it up there with French and Italian food and everything else. We’ve only just scratched the surface and I don’t want to take my eyes of the the ball because I’ve opened one restaurant.
“I want have 20 or 30, that’s the dream and those plans take massive focus, so for me it is really about getting my head down with the concept, and not just saying try my sauce and taste the Caribbean that way, I’m now saying, come to my restaurant and experience the Caribbean. Apart from going to the Caribbean the next best thing would be dining at my place,” he added.
Levi will be demonstrating in the cookery theatre on the Saturday of the weekend festival.
Also appearing will be TV chefs Phil Vickery and John Christophe Novelli, alongside creator of the amazing Star Wars desserts and the head chef at Sophia’s Restaurant, Andy Kelly. Northampton cookery teacher and food writer,
Carmela Sereno Hayes and with their seafood recipes there will be The Crabstock Boys.
As well as cooking demonstrations, the festival will have a tent of dreams - the food marquee, with Artisan regional and local food and drink, artisan baking, goods and locally reared meats. There will also be micro breweries and a real ale marquee.
There is no way visitors will go hungry. The Piazza will boast a whole host caterers, with tastes to suit everyone, including Som Tam Thai Cuisine, Street Food from the Caribbean Islands and Tastes of Vietnam.
The festival is open 10am-6pm both days. Tickets per day are £8 adults, £7 concessions, children £3.