Philippa James visits Levanter Foods, Spanish paella made in Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 00:07 12 August 2013 | UPDATED: 09:37 20 April 2016
A couple are making a stir with pans of delicious paella using authentic ingredients. Philippa James reports
Interviewing husband and wife team, Fiona and Joe Botham, was a bit like peeling layers from an onion – a Spanish one, of course. This is a couple with many talents. She is a mum looking after four small children, but has worked in insurance, restaurants and night clubs, while he is a talented guitarist with a flair for Flamenco, and he also runs art projects.
But, with funding for arts being squeezed, they decided to combine their passion for Spain with Joe’s love of music and culinary skills to cater at private parties, cooking paella and then entertaining the guests with music. Levanter Fine Foods was born.
Things moved on at a fair lick, and in 2011 they were asked to cook at Rawtenstall’s Annual Fair. Fiona said it was a far cry from Spain - outside a then derelict shopping centre in pouring rain. But they sold all 60 portions of paella, cooked on a camping stove. They looked at each other and said: ‘This could work!’ Within three months they were at Manchester Food and Drink Festival. ‘We had no choice but to upscale,’ said Joe. ‘We had no gazebo, we needed proper pans and burners. We invested everything we had into it. This was a real baptism of fire.’ Ten days of constant rain followed but the business remained afloat.
Their delicious paellas (chicken or seafood) are made from scratch with fresh ingredients purchased both at local producers and from trusted artisan Spanish suppliers. They now have a smart unit in Haslingden and when they are not cooking, they sell deli items on-line to a loyal and growing customer base. They’d always wanted see the Spanish cave houses carved from the rocks, so combined this with trips to seek out a good chorizo for the paella and the very best meat. Fiona said: ‘We made it our mission to source Iberico hams from a tiny farm in Salamanca.’
They have learnt a lot about the processing rules and regulations, as well as the very strict grading stipulations attached to Serrano and Iberico hams. The pigs have to have been fed 14 kilos of foraged acorns from the vast oak forests. For every kilo of ham produced and, because of the high vegetable intake, the fat contains 55% oleic acid, the substance which is in olive oil making it better for you than other oils. These pigs are truly free-range.
So where did this lively and interesting couple meet? Joe, Ramsbottom born and bred, was playing at a music festival and Fiona, from Prestwich, had been reciting poetry. On the last night Joe reluctantly went to a party. ‘I went out looking for something to eat, not to marry.’ They hit it off instantly.
So what next? Fiona said they’d like a better work and home-life balance. ‘It’s hard on the kids and hard on the family, who help us. I was missing the children with doing events, so Joe is tending to concentrate on those now.
‘The twins go to school in September so that will give me an extra two hours a day; we need to do more on our website, our on-line sales and more trips to source an ever-growing range of genuine products.’
Joe added: ‘We did think of carrying some less expensive products from the big Spanish suppliers, but we aren’t prepared to compromise on quality. We are here for the long game.’
‘We’ve got some exciting plans ahead, although we may have to ship the kids off to boarding school - that was a joke!’ Fiona howled with laughter… but I already knew that.