Levi Roots: success and the secret to a great jerk chicken

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Levi Roots won a £50k investment for his Reggae Reggae Sauce on Dragons’ Den in 2007. He has since opened Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse at Westfield Stratford City, and joined the hunt for the next ‘foodpreneur’.

Here he talks of his success...

What I am looking for in a winner of The Foodpreneur is...

Based on my own experiences investors are interested in personality. So I’ll be thinking, “Is this somebody who really wants to go that extra mile?” I suppose that’s what I’ve had to do, y’know? A kid, coming from Brixton, who didn’t excel much when he was younger, but later on in life, he’s had to work twice as hard as everybody else.

It’s not a restaurant...

It’s a rastarant, because if you cut me I bleed reggae music and Rastafari. I’ve been drawing some inspiration from people such as Jamie [Oliver]. I wanted it to be Caribbean, but still have my British twist, because that’s who I am, you know?

Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse is a rastarant
Levi Roots Caribbean Smokehouse is a rastarant

The secret to a great jerk chicken is...

...in the pimento, the allspice. There’s nearly 7,000 islands in the Caribbean. It’s the most diverse cuisine in the world and everyone makes their jerk chicken in their own way. There is friendly banter between the islands and it does come out in the food. We also have “ital” food on the menu, which is what Bob Marley would have had. It goes a bit deeper than vegan; it’s a way of life.

I can never remember...

My grandmother ever cooking on the inside of the kitchen. Never. Everything was about the barbecue. I’ve replicated that in my rasta-rant — everything is cooked by smoke. When it’s beautiful sunshine, you just want to get out in the garden with a bit of smoke going and, I bet you, within an hour, somebody will come round, with a bottle of wine and join in the party.

Nowadays when I want to party...

I just wait until I have my own shindig at the rastarant. The first Sunday of every month we have an open mic session and the place is packed out, with everyone getting up dancing among the food — it’s like a Greek party in there, but with a reggae vibe!

Backstage after Dragons’ Den, I remember...

Peter [Jones] saying “Levi, just be you and learn as you go”. That was the best thing he could have said, because it allowed me to make mistakes, which is really important for an entrepreneur. You have to have the intrepidness to go in, and it doesn’t always work, but you will always learn from your mistakes.

The hunt is on to find London's hottest foodpreneur...

To celebrate the Evening Standard's London Food month and the 10 year anniversaty of his life-changing appearance on Dragons' Den, Levi Roots is joining with Westfield to find the capital's next food entrepreneur. Find more information here

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