Gourmet pepper 
is the spice of life

Michael Winters in a Cambodian pepper kitchen
Michael Winters in a Cambodian pepper kitchen
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A Blackpool-born entrepreneur is hoping to spice up the country’s kitchens using the “King of Peppers”.

Michael Winters, from Marton, who was a student at St Mary’s RC High, is bringing a gourmet style pepper to the UK which has been one of the best kept secrets of the French.

I had been on holiday to India many times but wanted to travel off the beaten track to places such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

Kadode Kampot pepper comes from Cambodia and is of a variety that was almost forgotten during the days of the horrific regime of dictator Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge who instigated the infamous killing fields.

Michael, who works in sales and marketing in London, but whose family live in Lomond Avenue, discovered the pepper on a career break in South East Asia.

He said: “I had been on holiday to India many times but wanted to travel off the beaten track to places such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

“On the way out I got talking to a woman on the plane who had a relative with a guest house in Kampot.

“I went there and discovered a French man who was helping the local farmers form a company called Farmlink to cultivate these varieties of pepper which are hugely popular with foodies in France.

“It is known as the King of Pepper and used to be grown in bulk when Cambodia was a French protectorate.

“Then, when Pol Pot took over in the 70s, he turned the area over to rice production and the vines were ripped up. There were only about 100 left, used by the farmers themselves.

“They used to export 8,000 tons, mainly to France. And that suddenly stopped and only now is the export business building again. It’s the premium 
quality stuff, a bit like Maldon is a premium salt. It is used by top chefs in France, I believe Raymond Blanc is a fan.

“It was featured on Rick Stein’s cookery programme and he was really impressed with the pepper.

“It comes in three varieties, black, red and white, all of which are grown on the same vine but the difference is the time they are harvested.

“Black is taken first and amounts to about 70 per cent of the production. Then comes red and then, finally, later in the season, white.

“It has a distinctive, intense flavour so you don’t need to use too much. First you get the heat then comes an almost floral aroma. The red has a smoky sweet flavour and the white is almost zesty.

“It is all to do with the 
area’s location between the sea and the mountains. The soil has a high quartz content and is very rich.

“They hand grade it with tweezers and then it is freeze dried at source – a totally organic product. It is an internationally protected food, one of just two from Cambodia.”

He said the pepper was being launched at the start of the Cambodian New Year and on the 40th anniversary of when Pol Pot’s men marched into Phnom Penh and emptied the city of its two million inhabitants in three days to show how the farmers have fought back from the devastation of the regime. It is being marketed on line and in delicatessens nationally. He said he was hoping to sign up a deal with specialist food shops and the more discerning supermarkets.