Whilst it may have come as a surprise to some foodies who live in the City Centre food bubble, and even managed to shock the chef himself, it won’t surprise many people who have been following the Manchester food trends to see Joe Botham of Levanter as one of the nominations for the Chef of the Year at the Manchester Food and Drink Festival.
Ever since he opened up his first proper casual dining restaurant back in April 2014 he has been accumulating awards and attention, with people flocking from far and wide across the North West to taste his take on northern Spanish food.
Joe is very modest about the food that he produces, telling us that “it’s not about the chef, it’s about the ingredients”, but it’s obvious that his passion for Spanish food plays a key part in making the restaurant a success. Whilst he claims to do “as little as possible” to the raw ingredients, it’s clear that he has a flair for matching flavours together to make up the perfect dish – with examples such as his ‘Andalusian Chicken served with Almonds, Leeks and Lemons’ proving the point.
His love for the food started when he was very young, with the family’s lives played out around the dinner table, and family parties and occasions often centred around the food.
His love for Spanish food in particular can be pinpointed to his travels in Cordoba and Granada, when he was studying Music. He immersed himself in the culture in Spain, and also the culture of food in Spain, and came back knowing how to cook a great Paella, and a few tapas dishes.
4 years working on his own market stall, serving hundreds of portions of Paella, which had all been slow cooked and simmered for hours to allow the intensity of the flavours to come through, and Joe decided that it was time he opened up his first dedicated space – and he hasn’t looked back since.
He admits that whilst there was “a steep learning curve to begin with”, the fact that he had already been cooking for years, and had a great base of loyal, returning customers hungry for his food allowed him to hit the ground running. Joe stuck to what he knew, so whilst others might have been tempted to open up in the City Centre, he opened up right where his customers wanted him to – in Ramsbottom, which is slowly getting a reputation for fine food.
The restaurant has gone from strength to strength, and even though they don’t accept bookings (so his loyal customers aren’t left hungry by the food tourists) you’d be hard pushed to get a table on a Friday or Saturday night – or even on a Sunday lunchtime when their Galician Ribs served with Guernica peppers and tomatoes have become an instant hit, and often cause queues outside!
A second venue (Baratxuri – a Pincho Bar) has already followed the success of Levanter, and Joe has other ideas for venues that he may look at in the near future, though for now it is all about trying to create new dishes that haven’t been seen on these shores yet, and showing a different angle to Spanish food – which he does by travelling to Spain at every opportunity available, and heading off the beaten track to find traditional dishes that are local to just that community, with each small village offering a new take on the classics depending upon what is available locally.
“We’re constantly keeping the menu fresh, and trying new dishes out all the time. It is a struggle, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of Spanish food.”
Will Joe be voted the Manchester Food and Drink Festival Chef of the Year 2016? Follow us @CityCardMCR to find out when we present the award tonight!
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