Thursday, 3 June 2010

Levi Roots interview

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a PR agency asking would I be interested in interviewing Levi Roots. My first thought was that they obviously think Im someone other than the writer of this food blog, maybe someone who makes their living out of this rather than just typing away to myself here. My second thought was that they were going to use me to spread the cultish word of Levi Roots, which I suspect is a lot easier to do by asking bloggers than to get a national newspaper to do the job. My third thought was that it didnt matter a hoot why they were asking and I didnt even have to publish anything if I didnt want to but that it was a good chance to talk to an entrepreneur in the food business who might be able to give me some of the secrets to his success and that if I was lucky I might just get him to sing to me or ask what shampoo he uses on those dreadlocks of his.

levi roots
a very giddy me and a very bling Mr. Levi Roots

What can I tell you about Mr. Roots that you dont already know if you've seen him on the television (I hadnt). He's charming, interesting, inspiring, a real dad (7 kids, all of which he seems to have brought up) and someone that you immediately want to bring for a pint or home for dinner

I suspect that ready meals arent really his thing given his love for cooking but he seems to have this desire to spread the word on Caribbean food and to be fair the ingredients on his packets are not as crazily processed as some packaged foods would be. His Reggae Reggae sauce is now second in the UK only to Heinz Ketchup with companies like Wetherspoons and Subway using it. One of his favourite things in the world is still to cook food at home after wandering around to buy the ingredients and eat home cooked food, the other being his music which he realises he has had to tone down for his new sauce enjoying followers. He did admit that he had never eaten home cooked food in Ireland yet but declined the offer for some leftover rhubarb tart I had at home.

He has had a fairly colourful life so far but is determined to make things right for his kids, two of whom run a restaurant that he set up and provide school meals from there every day. Knowing where he comes from and the fact that he has had to work hard is evident when speaking to him and he speaks to kids in schools regularly about how he started his business, many of whom will no doubt look to him as a mentor in future. He explains to me that giving up the recipe for the sauce was tough, tough to hand over the baby he created with his family in his kitchen to a company but Im pretty sure that selling 50,000 bottles a week has soothed some of that pain.

When asked about the struggle to get investment he explained that he's glad he didnt give up on his passion and focus. He could have renamed his sauce, taken the "Reggae Reggae" out of it (my suggestion was Mr. Roots' brown sauce) and not told Bank Managers that he would sell more than Heinz and got some decent funding far earlier. That was never the an option for him though and he has no regrets after working on it for years honing his sauce and his business plan. He sees this as key to starting a business, having passion and focus. He reckons that now is the ideal time to be focusing on starting a business, having plenty of time to get ideas and business plans together before banks start lending again.

The review bit:
There are a lot of reasons I might be the wrong person to be reviewing microwave ready meal dinners given that I dont have a microwave, I try to avoid ingredients I cant find in my kitchen (none/few in most of the dishes) and if I do find something I like Im more likely to try and reproduce it than go out and buy them up from a supermarket fridge. I really didnt have much interest in the bag of foods I was given as I walked out of the room and expected not to write about them at all but given that they were actually not all that bad they deserve a quick review.
  • Reggae Reggae Chicken with butternut squash rice (medium)- tasty although the butternut kind of dried and hardened in the oven. 
  • Puerto Rican stylee chicken rice with roast peppers (medium)- Ive never been to Puerto Rico so wouldnt really know Puerto Rican style food if it hit me in the head so I was surprised, apparently olives are a key ingredient. This was the only one of the 3 dishes that didnt have oven instructions on the back so not all that surprisingly the plastic container melted in the oven.
  • Levi's Caribbean Hot chilli Beef with seasoned rice (hot) - this was by far my favourite, really tasty and nicely warm, the kind of dish that would be fantastic to have when youre starving and dying for something really tasty.
If anything I was a little disappointed by the heat in the dishes. I have no frame of reference, not having ever eaten any Caribbean food before and living in a country with few people from the Caribbean. If nothing else I applaud Levi Roots for spreading the good news and inspiration. As I said though given the lack of microwave Im more likely to be trying to figure out how to make these myself than buying in bulk

P.S. He didnt sing for me or tell me what shampoo he used unfortunately 


  1. Wonderful post Deirdre, what a fantastic opportunity!

    I'm not great with ready meals either (also don't have a micro!!) but I have a bottle of his Reggae Reggae sauce in the press. Did they give you a copy of his cook book?

    Looking forward to your interview with Gordon, Nigella, Nigel, Jamie etc. etc!!

  2. thank you!
    no cook book unfortunately, although if I had got one I would have had to hide it as it would have implied the need for a new bookshelf and an extension to the kitchen!

  3. A foodie who had never even tried Carribean cuisine until Levi Roots came to her house!? Oh dear... I hope you've fixed that since!

  4. I know, at least not that I can remember. Very sad sheltered life story indeed


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