Focus on: Levi Roots

BY JO AUSTIN

An unlikely meeting between a Cornish chef and a Jamaican reggae musician has resulted in a great collaboration now making its way onboard. Jo Austin discovers more

James Strawbridge of The Bake Factory first met reggae musician and British food entrepreneur Levi Roots at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair in 2016. Having identified Caribbean food flavours as a hot trend, Strawbridge could see the potential of working with Roots’ well-establish Reggae Reggae range, and an onboard collaboration was born.

Strong and well-established retail brands are becoming a key aspect of airline catering and Levi Roots is no novice when it comes to brand power. A household name in the UK for the last decade he saw a meteoric rise to fame after his spicy sauces won the backing of retail entrepreneur Peter Jones.

Jerk flavours

The first product to launch was a spicy Reggae Reggae sauce with strong jerk flavours for marinades or dipping, quickly followed by an extensive range of sauces, meal kits, snacks and drinks. Levi says: “We try to make sure that everything on our range is a genuinely Caribbean recipe or at least has a Caribbean twist. I’ve found that you can take a standard product category such as crisps or soft drinks and with a little imagination you can add sunshine, music and vibes of the Caribbean.”

Working in harmony

Strawbridge and Roots worked closely for several months and after a few weeks in The Bake Factory development kitchen in Cornwall a hot lamb jerk pattie, a Martinique chicken curry with skankin rice and a Reggae Reggae chicken wrap with Caribbean slaw were born.

Strawbridge says: “The great part of this process from my perspective as a development chef was that flavour and intensity are never lacking with Levi’s recipes. Jerk seasoning has so many layers and the spices punch through the reduced taste profile that you get in the air with real style. The use of allspice, scotch bonnet, tamarind and other authentic spices works well to capture sweet and spicy, combined with the umami glaze from chargrilled meats and burnt vegetables, the recipes sing out with real harmony.

“I asked Levi which was his favourite recipe and it didn’t surprise me when he said: “I have so many, it’s difficult to choose but my go-to is a simple one – my chicken soup, which is inspired by the one my mother always used to make for me. I call it ‘the cure’.

Working in harmony

This love of nostalgic, simple recipes is something that the two men have tried hard to preserve throughout the development process and Strawbridge adds: “As a Cornish development chef, pasties are my bread and butter. We had long discussions on the differences between the Cornish pasty and the Jamaican patty and Levi told me that it was Lord Falmouth who took the humble pasty to Jamaica where they then gave it a makeover with a different shape, spices and other ingredients. We debated the perfect patty shape, pastry texture and crimping and I went home, listened to more reggae and perfected our version. The goal throughout has been to maintain that rustic family-table ethos key to Caribbean cooking and hospitality.”