Levi Roots cooked up more than sauce, court case reveals
LONDON, the United Kingdom, Thursday, November 17, 2011 – The secret recipe for Reggae Reggae Sauce was not inherited from Levi Roots’ Jamaican grandmother; and the successful British-based entrepreneur has a gangland past.
These were two startling revelations that came to light this week during an ongoing High Court case wherein Roots’ former business partner, Chef Tony Bailey, 52, has accused him of stealing the coveted recipe while the pair ran a jerk chicken stall at the popular Notting Hill Carnival. Bailey and financial advisor Sylvester Williams are suing Roots for more than £600,000 after they claimed he cut them out of an agreement to launch the sauce together.
Roots – real name Keith Valentine Graham – appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2007 and became the most successful contestant on Dragons’ Den and a millionaire to boot on the strength of his popular condiment.
But the former reggae star, 53, has admitted he lied on the BBC show when he said the secret recipe was handed down by his grandmother and the Reggae Reggae Sauce proprietor also confessed that another claim – that the sauce had been the taste of the Notting Hill Carnival for 15 years – was a marketing ploy.
Questioned in the court about the sauce being his grandmother’s recipe, Roots admitted that was untrue. He said: ‘I was trying to create the flavour my grandmother used to cook for me. How she used to do what she called relish.’
However, the former reggae star says he created the sauce from a basic recipe, and was trying to 'recreate' the flavour of his grandmother's original jerk chicken seasoning.
He also claimed that while the sauce wasn't sold at the Notting Hill Carnival, he and Bailey sold jerk chicken and people came to their stall just to see Levi Roots himself.
Roots claimed his story about his sauce being 'the taste of Notting Hill Carnival' was in reference to his reputation at the Caribbean street celebration.
Reading from the sauce label, Ian Glen QC, acting for the claimants, said: 'On the bottle of sauce, it says "Our family in Jamaica have been blending home-made jerk sauce since way back, and for years it's been the taste of London's Notting Hill Carnival." Is that true?'
Roots replied: 'No, that's not true. It's a marketing ploy.
'When I was trying to market the sauce, I thought of every conceivable way that I was connected with music and the Notting Hill Carnival.
I cooked all that in a bag together and tried my best to make a story about it.'
When Glen asked about the claim that it was his grandmother's recipe, he admitted that this was also untrue.
Roots said: 'My way of trying to market the sauce when I started out was to put in all my experience with people in my life and my family.
'I was trying to create the flavour that my grandmother used to cook for me. How she used to do what she called relish.
'I was trying to recreate that flavour and that is the reason why my grandmother is on it. I thought it apt to put her legacy in there.'
Glen also read from the transcript of Roots' appearance on Dragons' Den, which convinced entrepreneurs Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh to invest in the product to the tune of £50,000.
He said: 'You were saying that you had been successfully selling Reggae Reggae sauce for 15 years, is that right?'
Roots replied: 'It's my connection to Notting Hill Carnival was more what I was talking about. This was my marketing ploy.'
Glen said: 'But the sauce didn't have a 15-year reputation?'
Roots said: 'It's not about sauce, it's about Levi Roots. It [the carnival stall] was only popular because it was a Levi Roots stall.'
He also admitted lying in his first cookbook by denying his gangland past.
But he said: 'I was desperately trying to tell my story in a cookbook, which was totally unrelated to what I was now, and I found it very difficult to tell the story.
'I wouldn't say it was a lie - I was trying to market myself at the time. I was trying to market myself as Levi Roots.'
He admitted having a business agreement with Williams, but said it had been abandoned before his appearance on Dragons' Den.
Roots added: 'Since Dragons' Den I realised what I have become to the public. It's become much more than just a sauce.
'The whole thing about Levi Roots has become so important, especially for black African Caribbean people.'
Bailey and Williams claim breach of confidence, over the sauce recipe, and breach of contract. Roots denies their claims and insists the pair have no rights in the sauce or the business. The hearing continues.