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The Pepper Connection

Back to Basics.

That’s what Luisa Brimble answered, without hesitation, when asked what the next trend in food would be. Luisa is an Australian food and lifestyle photographer. She was talking with Skye Manson on My Open Kitchen, an Australian podcast I’ve been devouring since I discovered it a few weeks ago.

Luisa’s words couldn’t have come at a better time. Episode 12 of The Food Podcast tells the story of the most basic of ingredients: the peppercorn. In this episode we also meet the Biggar’s, a family who fell in love with Kampot peppercorns while travelling in Cambodia. The love was so strong that when they returned to Toronto, they became Kampot Peppermongers. They call their business DRØM Pepper.

In honour of the episode, I decided to make the classic Italian dish where peppercorns really shine: Cacio e Pepe, or cheese and pepper. The ingredients are minimal: pasta, salty water, cheese, butter and pepper. That’s it. But the dish is strangely difficult to pull off. It really only works if you combine the best ingredients with a touch of patience and tenderness. So, I dug into my well of patience and tenderness and went for it. I started by kicking everyone out the kitchen. Then I grated a mountain of Grana Padano and Parmesan. I boiled spaghetti in plenty of salty water. I melted butter in a hot pan and swirled it around with lots of ground Kampot pepper. I added a ladle of salty water to the pan, and tossed the cooked pasta though using tongs. I sprinkled the cheese over the slippery, peppery pasta, and tossed it all again until the cheese had melted. I finished it off with more grinds of the pepper mill. Then, I called everyone back in and we twisted our forks until every last peppery-cheese-coated piece of spaghetti was gone.

It was simple. It was basic. It was delicious. And this recipe really helped.

The episode is also about connection. Peppercorns connected The Biggar’s to farmers in Cambodia and to a new career in Canada. Peppercorns connected me to the Biggar’s, and to Chef Kaya Ogruce’s gelato at Death in Venice in Toronto. Peppercorns, pepper shakers (and my nosiness) connected me to my neighbour Tony, an antique collector. All of the above reminded me of the importance of excellent ingredients and simple flavours, which leads me right back to Luisa Brimble’s words: let’s get ‘back to basics’.

PS – Luisa Brimble, on what trend she’d like to see in food photography:

“No fandangled styling. Not too much of that. I think, it’s all too much now. Just cook food, serve it on a table as if you’re just about to sit down, and shoot it. Boom. Done. Simple.”

Amen Luisa!