At the 20th Anniversary West Dean Chilli Fiesta (7, 8 & 9 August 2015) entrepreneur, chef and musician Levi Roots will be injecting some cool Caribbean flavours in to the kitchen at our Cookery Theatre, as well as getting festival-goers on their feet when he and his band take to the main stage on the final afternoon to perform tasty tracks from his brand new album Rise Above (due out 31 July 2015).
So, starting at the beginning… could you tell us a little bit about how your heritage and your grandmother influenced your cooking and love for food?
When my parents moved to the UK from Clarendon in Jamaica, they couldn’t afford to take all of their children with them so each year they would send for one of us. As the youngest, I was the last to be sent for. This was wonderful for me because it meant I had one-on-one time with my beloved grandmother which included plenty of singing and cooking in the kitchen. I also spent time helping on the family farm, from picking mangoes to tending to the pimento berries on the pimento tree.
It looks like the cooking relationship you had with your grandmother is something that you’ve tried to replicate with your own children. Could you tell us more about the importance of family in your cooking?
Absolutely. I’ve always cooked with my children. At the age of about eight years old I recall my grandmother showing me how to make fried dumplings, teaching me her method to judge the correct amount of water to add to the flour in order to make the perfect dough for excellent dumplings. I still do it the same way and passed the same method onto my children. When I started out with the sauce [Reggae Reggae Sauce], it was my children who helped me make it in our dutch pot at home. We would be working away in the kitchen and then I’d head off to peddle each batch around Brixton on my bike!
You coined the phrase “put some music in your food”. Could you tell us more about the importance of that connection? Was it something that struck you when spending time at Notting Hill Carnival in particular?
My two passions have always been music and food. Prior to Dragon’s Den, my album ‘Free Your Mind’ was nominated for a MOBO so I already had a strong following as a musician. Growing up with my grandmother, we’d never cook without singing and in later life, I’d always have music on whilst I cooked. The many years I spent at Notting Hill Carnival certainly confirmed that there was a gap in the market to put ‘music in the food’ and I felt the public were ready for Reggae Reggae Sauce. My time at the carnival and at many food markets thereafter gave me complete confidence in the product, the public loved it!
We grow around 250 varieties of chillies in the glasshouses at West Dean Gardens. What are your favourite types of chillies and what dishes do you like to use them in?
I’d have to say the Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Chilli. This packs a punch but what I love about it is that it’s got so much flavour too. You can leave it to sit in one of my one-pot-one-love type dishes to disperse flavour but not heat. You can use the whole chilli inclusive, of the white inner casing, for a spicy kick or without for a milder heat. It’s very versatile.
What do you think makes a really special spicy dish?
A spicy dish is only special when it’s packed with flavour. I’m never without my ‘sunshine kit’ which consists of typical Jamaican ingredients including: rum, honey, nutmeg, pimento/all-spice and Scotch Bonnet chilli. All of which have amazing flavours!
Entrepreneur and ‘Dragon’ Peter Jones is well known as ‘Mr Nice’ on television, is he like this in real life?
Peter is one of my heroes; he sits right up there with Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley for me. He continues to be my mentor and is a very dear friend.
Finally, what can we expect when you cook and perform at the 20th West Dean Gardens Chilli Fiesta this year?
A ‘fabulicious’ time! I’ll be turning up the heat for you in the demo kitchen, showing you how to make my Homestyle Jerk Chicken Wings and my Hot ’N’ Spicy Caribbean Coleslaw. I’ll also be up on stage performing brand new music from my new album Rise Above. I can’t wait!
Levi will be heating up the kitchen at Chilli Fiesta in the Cookery Theatre at 1:30pm Sunday, before performing on the main stage at 3:00pm Sunday. Book tickets here!
For a taste of what you can expect when Levi gets on stage at West Dean Chilli Fiesta 2015, listen to ‘Jam in the streets’, Levi’s first single from the new album…
For more information or to book tickets for Chilli Fiesta and all of our great Summer events here at West Dean College and Gardens, visit our website at www.westdean.org.uk/Events
West Dean Gardens forms part of the Edward James Foundation. Charity number 1126084. Charity No: 6689362