Arts and Culture

Rocking cod in a roots-reggae style

Matthew Burbidge

Levi Roots, the singing chef, along with his guitar, has been booked for the Good Food and Wine Show in Johannesburg this weekend.

Feeling irie: Celebrity chef Levi Roots says he is planning to be ‘joyous’ when he cooks at the Good Food and Wine Show this weekend

Roots, also known as Keith Graham, shot to fame after an appearance on the United Kingdom’s Apprentice-style game show Dragons’ Den, in 2007. Contestants pitch their business plan to a panel of entrepreneurs, and he walked off with £50 000 to produce his Roots’ Reggae Reggae Jerk/BBQ sauce, which he had been making in his kitchen.

Upmarket supermarket chain Sainsbury’s said it wanted to stock the sauce, making Roots £60-million in five years as well as getting the chance to “walk around with Prince Charles and the prime minister”.

But he still lives in the same flat in south London’s Brixton.

Roots now has an entire range of the sauces — including Rasta Pasta sauce, Reggae Reggae Tomato Ketchup and a Fiery Guava Sauce —as well as ready-made meals, sodas, pasties, crisps and seven recipe books. A Jamaican friend of mine says the jerk sauce “isn’t bad”, but  has been tailored for the British ­palate.

Speaking to me on the phone from the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, Roots says allspice, also known as pimento or Jamaican pepper, is the most important ingredient in Caribbean cuisine, and carries the flavours of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, pepper and ginger.

“You cannot officially call it jerk without allspice,” he says, adding that it “goes into everything”, including soups and porridges.

For Roots, it’s “always about the music”. “I’ll be joyous … I’m different from other celebrity chefs,” he says, adding that people will watch Gordon Ramsay less for his food than for his swearing.

At the show, Roots is planning on cooking cod with ackee, a pear-shaped, orange-coloured fruit, which he says you can’t get outside of the Caribbean. He’s bought some tins. The fruit contains a poisonous membrane, which has to be picked out before it’s cooked.

“First, I’ll prepare the flavours: scallion, bay leaves, allspice, ginger, red and green capsicum, Scotch Bonnet [chillies], and get them fine, get them coming alive. I’ll get the salted cod boiling, and then add the flavours, and cook that together. Then grind up allspice, black pepper and add that. Then it’s time for the ackee. I’ll drain the tin and put ackee on top of the fish. It’s so delicate; if you touch it with a spoon it disintegrates. I’ll lower it on there and let it steam. If I can get some ladyfingers [okra], I’ll pan-fry them. Then a little bit of allspice and then it’s ready.”

In his quest to bring Jamaican food to the masses, Roots also suggests you put together a “sunshine kit”, including thyme, dhania, garlic, ginger, Scotch Bonnet peppers, bay leaves, allspice and nutmeg.

True Rastafarians, he says, regard dagga as a herb, “the same as mint, sage, coriander”, with a flavour similar to thyme or oregano when dried.

The Good Food and Wine Show is on at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg from September 21 to 24. Roots will be cooking at the Chefs in Action theatre on Saturday at 6.30pm, on Sunday at 7.30pm and on Monday at 10.30am and 1.30pm


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