My life before Dragon’s Den was certainly colourful! I grew up in Jamaica and came to the UK when I was 12. I couldn’t read or write and had never worn shoes! I was a real country boy and it was a bit of a shock when I arrived in Brixton. I got involved with music as a teenager, after discovering Bob Marley. My music career fizzled out and I found myself working in a plumber’s yard. One day I decided I wanted a better life for me and my family and took the sauce business on full time – I was selling it in my spare time and it was a great success.
My grandma is my main influence. I grew up in Jamaica with my grandparents. My parents moved to the UK when I was very small and sent for my older brothers and sisters one by one over the years. Eventually it was just me left and I really treasure the time I had alone with my grandparents. They would sing and cook all day and it really influenced me. They taught me everything I knew about cooking, the fruits and vegetables in the garden and they blended it all with music. It was a lovely childhood.
Notting Hill Carnival was where it all started. I attended the carnival for the music originally and I eventually started making the sauce to go with the BBQ chicken that was cooked there. Everyone has their own special sauce and they are so proud of it! It can get quite competitive! My sauce was always really popular and I made big vats of it at home in my tiny kitchen with my kids. The sauce was inspired by my grandmother. I used the herbs and spices and cooking techniques that she taught me as a small boy. It was a tribute to her really.
My version of British food is always dubbed up Jamaican style! Whether it’s taking the classic Fish & Chips and putting my spin on it, maybe adding some pimento (allspice) to the batter, or serving it with lime mayonnaise instead of tartar sauce. And I always eat it with reggae reggae sauce – it’s a match made in heaven!
Bob Marley was a good friend. If I saw him again I would have to cook up Jamaica’s national dish – Ackee & Salt Fish. We hung out while he was in exile in the UK so he wouldn’t have been able to eat a lot of ackee and salt fish. I would have cooked up a taste of home for him.
My new music album in Jamaica isn’t a step away from food by any means. My motto is putting music in your food, so the two go hand in hand. I’ve been focusing on the food for 6 years now, building the brand to the stage that it’s currently at. Now I feel it’s time to focus on the music and incorporate that into the brand a bit more.
ASDA’s new jerk chicken in a tin is a compliment. It’s not a product line that we had ever considered, but before Dragon’s Den, there was no jerk chicken in stores, there were no hot sauces on the shelves. Now when you go into a supermarket there are whole aisles dedicated to exotic herbs and spices. I really believe that the Levi Roots brand has had a big hand in creating the demand for new and exciting products from the Caribbean.
Being called ‘the face of Caribbean food in the UK’ isn’t everything. We have opened a Pandora’s Box of excitement and intrigue surrounding Caribbean food. There is still so much of the cuisine to share with the UK consumers. We are only 6 years old as a company and have a long way to go. We’re on the right track and it’s been a fantastic journey so far.
Launching my products in Jamaica was an amazing time for me. Taking my success back to Jamaica really made me realise just what I had achieved. Last month, we launched the range at Devon House, a National Heritage site in Jamaica which is so iconic. There is a range of products now available including sauces, wrap kits and merchandise. The launch was a very proud moment in my life!
It’s hugely important for me to give back what I can to the community. I didn’t have a role model to aspire to when I was growing up and I think it’s so important for young people to have someone to look up to. If I can motivate just one or two young people and help them achieve something fantastic with their lives, then I can die a happy man.