My Life In Food: Levi Roots


Roots first started selling his Reggae Reggae sauce in 1991 at the Notting Hill Carnival. Sixteen years later, after an investment from Dragon's Den entrepreneurs Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh, it hit the shelves in Sainsbury's. Since then, Roots has written six cookbooks, including his latest, Sweet (Conran Octopus £18.99). His proudest moment remains, however, singing happy birthday to Nelson Mandela when he visited Britain in 1996.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

That's easy, a pestle and mortar. I am the sauce man, after all. I use that constantly. I hate using any ready-prepared seasoning. It always has loads of rubbish in it. Much better mashing up your own stuff – you end up with a much better flavour then. I don't have things in my kitchen I don't use. I don't really get it when people do. The only thing in my kitchen that I don't love is the washing up.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I'd go to my local market in Brixton – the one near Electric Avenue, the place Eddy Grant sung about. I never tire of reminding people how important it is to support your local market. I'd get the mainstays of most Ital dishes, which is the name of Jamaican vegan food, and what Bob Marley used to eat. So sweet potatoes and herbs and things like this. Also some lady's fingers. I wouldn't go for meat. Though maybe, money permitting, I'd get a red snapper.

What do you eat for comfort?

I love chocolate; can't resist it. Whenever I stop at a shop I always end up coming out with a chocolate bar – more often than not a Snickers. Or a Twix – that with a cup of tea, to dunk it in to.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Potato. They come in so many different guises and forms. Just think about the sweet potato for a start: there are three different kinds. Then you have all the variation of British spuds. There is a variety available, so you don't get bored. You could have a different form of potato, in terms of variety, and the way you cooked it, every day. Though, of course, the best thing you can do with a potato is make it into a chip.

What's your desert island recipe?

I would take my smoked fish choka. First you get some green peppers, red pepper, onions and garlic, which you chop up into small chunks. Now put a drop of vegetable oil in a pan and add all the things you've just chopped. Then add about four or five big tomatoes, also chopped. Now add as much smoked mackerel as you fancy and cook for 2 minutes with the lid on.

What's your favourite restaurant?

It is in Jamaica – called Jake's Place. It is out of the way, not too touristy, quite authentic. I prefer food that isn't too dressed up. It is all cooked by locals and has a great ambience.

What's your favourite cookbook?

Diana Henry's new book is really, really good. It's called Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons – and it's about interesting food from all over the world.

Who taught you to cook?

Most important for me was my grandmother. I picked up a love of a kitchen from her, while I was very young. After that... at 12, my mum.