Pepper Teigen Tells Us Everything We Need To Know About Thai Food - Exclusive Interview

Yes, Pepper Teigen has adopted the nickname Pepper Thai because she loves spice. She and her daughter Chrissy have their own special spice mixture that they put on everything literally, everything — Teigen says, even sushi. But Pepper's reputation as spice-obsessed may have outgrown even her. "Sometimes I can't take that hot either!," Teigen admits cheerfully in this exclusive interview with Mashed. And to eat Thai food a lá Teigen, neither do you. 

Chrissy Teigen might be Queen of Cravings, but in May 2021, her mom, Pepper became a The New York Times best-selling author. Her vibrant, easy-to-follow recipes in "The Pepper Thai Cookbook," introduced us to Chrissy's culinary origin story, and inspired us to cook up a storm of the same dishes that the Teigen family enjoys at home. For example? If you haven't tried Pepper Thai's chili jam spaghetti (Today has your back), prepare for a taste-bud awakening comfort food that might just give mac and cheese a run for its money.

Make no mistake about it: Pepper Thai is no one-hit-wonder. In a new Food Network special, "Getting Spicy with Pepper Teigen," Pepper opens the home and kitchen she shares with Chrissy, John, Miles, and Luna to the world. Sitting down with Mashed in the lead-up to the special, Teigen recounts her favorite cooking memories and lets us in on some all-important Thai-cooking wisdom.

What Chrissy Teigen grew up eating

Family is such a big part of your culinary life. Could share a favorite memory you have of when your daughters, Chrissy and Tina, were young that wasn't part of your upcoming Food Network special, "Getting Spicy with Pepper Teigen"?

I always cooked with both of my daughters when they were little and they loved to help. I think making sausage, making egg rolls, spring rolls — [those recipes needed] a lot of hands for helping. We had to do it quick. That's what brings back my memories that I have with my two girls.

What did they like to eat, or to make, most when they were kids?

Back then, I only knew how to eat Thai food. So, they would eat whatever I made. You know ... the rice puree, the stir fry of course, and like everyday things — Pad Thais, noodle bars that we could whip up very quick for everyone to have. So, that's what they liked to eat. Now, they've kind of changed. They like my fish and scalloped potatoes. I'm really proud of that recipe that we finally [got] written down.

You taught your daughters, Tina and Chrissy, how to cook. Is there anything that both of them need to learn still today?

No, I think they're very good on their own. Tina is very good at [cooking] Thai because she cooked with me a lot — they [are] five years [apart]. So ... each [have learned] their own way, they mix and match Thai and American together perfectly well. I'm doing a lot of learning from them. I think they're good!

What are you learning from them?

How to be organized! The first thing is writing down the recipes, organizing the ingredients and all that, and learning how to [cook in front of] the cameras. I never did that before. So, I'm getting better.

It's a very different thing. What's the hardest thing about cooking in front of a camera?

Yeah. I actually learned it from Chrissy, 'cause she does that a lot. The hardest thing is you have to get fast, and everything ready to be used and organized measurements, everything. So that it's easy for people to follow [along]. That was the hardest thing, is organizing the ingredients.

What's it like working with Chrissy? She's working as your producer on this upcoming special, but she's also your daughter. How are you managing that relationship?

For me, it's not really working. I'm just having so much fun, [I take on] so many roles in our house. Working for [Chrissy], she teaches me a lot because — I'm just like nobody. It was so fun. We get to do things together, travel together, vacation, work, and I'm enjoying it. I like it. I like to be able to help my daughter and she's helping me and, plus, [I get to] be with the children. I just love every minute.

Pepper Teigen's most important pantry ingredients revealed

What's the most important thing that your mom taught you about cooking that you passed down to your daughters and grandchildren? 

When I worked with my mom, she was the food vendor, kind of serving food at school. I was just helping for survival. Now, [for me] cooking is fun, and a thing that you want to [do]. But, I [grew up] cooking with my parents and my grandma. It's a memory that we created together. It's just something you can never forget. It's the same thing I did with Chrissy and Tina. And then, I got so lucky to do it again with Luna. We just enjoy time together in the kitchen.

 You also talk about, when you first came to the United States, driving 100 to 200 miles to get Thai basil. Is there any ingredient now that you would do the same thing for?

Oh, I'm so lucky I'm in California now. But, you know, sometimes I still have to order. Every day, I'm waiting for [my] shipment of my chilies, my eggplants. Now it's so easy, that you can order it through Facebook! 

What are your most important things in the pantry? 

Vegetables — of course my chili peppers — a variety of vegetables that I can make any meals with it. So I have cilantro, green onions, peppers, and then meat. Always, in my fridge there lots of vegetables. 

You have your own part of your fridge at home with John and Chrissy? How did that happen? How did you get to reserve your own space? 

I know, I mean, even before, back then [before we moved] I had my little corner. But now it's huge! I got everything in my dream that ... I can! It's all organized and so easy now for me. I have a fridge, we have a test kitchen. [It fits] all my food, all my sauces — spicy sauce, hot sauces — [and] my entire vegetable collection. So I don't have to mix them with [Chrissy and John's supplies]. You know, Chrissy, when she cooks, she just orders [her food] and then she finishes it. But, my [supplies] have to be there, ready to use.

Monday nights, you clean out your fridge completely. What's one thing that you make that never gets to be a leftover? 

Oh, maybe the fish, the fried rice — there's never a leftover.

Pepper Teigen talks cooking with granddaughter, Luna

You spend a lot of time with your own grandchildren. That's such a beautiful gift to be able to have. You cook with your grandchildren. What's the last thing that they surprised you with?

Of course, they love my food. I mean, I let them tell me what they like to eat. And I love making them a special dinner for sure. In the morning, it's kind of a rush. So they have to rush to get ready for school. [They don't] surprise me [about] anything, actually.

Who's the better helper in the kitchen?

Of course Luna. Pasha [Tina's daughter], she's coming here, she will be here next week. I don't live with her, so I don't spend much time [with her]. But she's doing a bit with Tina, the same way Tina did with me when she was little. But mostly, I'm with Luna, so Luna helps out [with] anything. She can, she loves to help sometimes. I have to like be careful [with her] up on the counters. I have to teach them the basic basics. The stove gets hot! And [the] chili is hot, you don't touch it!

I see you have Halloween decorations in the back. Do you have any big Halloween plans?

Chrissy is so into Halloween every year. Just see the whole house! There's pumpkins everywhere! Really, it's her favorite holiday. She loves Halloween. We are planning a thing already for this Halloween coming.

What's on the menu for Halloween?

I don't know yet, but of course, I'm going to fix up the site! I'm always sneaking in my Thai food. Sometimes, Chrissy says, "No mom, you don't have to cook." But "no, no, no. I got it."

The Teigen family's fried-food weakness

You say on the upcoming Food Network special that your guilty pleasure is fried chicken. What other fast food guilty pleasures can you share with us?

Fast food ... If John's not home, and I'm not cooking, I'm getting KFC! And I always get like a bucket. You know, [it's got] everything in there, and [if I] do not finish it, I have leftovers. Then, I turn [them] into a Thai dish later on. So I always have a big bucket, sometimes two because the kids love it, too! It's easy sometimes to cut up some tender parts for the kid's meals.

The way you prepared it on the special was such a creative way to use the fried chicken.

Sometimes [Luna and Miles] have like a special day. I'm not into cooking, and we have a full day of activities. So, we'll stop at McDonald's and they love to go to drive-thru [and] get kids meals with the toy. They love it! I mean, Luna can down two burgers! 

Kids have appetites! What's so good about John's fried chicken that makes it better than other chicken?
I know his secret ingredients. He will brine the chicken overnight. Overnight, that's right! That's what his secret is and his chicken is so good. Crispy. I love, love [it].

The thing you're getting wrong about Thai food, according to Pepper Teigen

Congratulations on your best-selling cookbook! What's the first recipe that people should start with? Especially if they're shy of just cooking in general, is there one that you would recommend? 

I recommend Pad Thai because I think it's so easy. I don't want people to be scared. You just, like, cook rice noodles in the sauce and add vegetables [and] protein as you like. It could be chicken, pork, beef. Pad Thai is very simple and easy, and [there's] nothing spicy [about it]. You can add spice later, before you eat it. But, children love it. It's kind of like Chow Mein with the Thai kick into it with a sweet sauce. You can add some lamb juice at the end. And then, I recommend Pad Thai with papaya salad. It's easy and they go together very, very well.

It's delicious and vibrant! What's the number one thing people get wrong when they think about Thai food in the United States? 

I think the spiciness. Thai people eat — some people don't eat any spice at all. I'm eating spicy [foods]. My name is Pepper. I'm from Northeastern Thailand, [where] everything sweet, sour, spicy — everything all together. But you don't have to be that spicy. You can add [spice in] a little bit — kick it up a little bit at a time. But that's what people [get wrong] about the spiciness — Even [at a] Thai restaurant, they have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 [spice levels]. So [you can order your food] how hot you want it. 

Okay. People kind of know me now. If I have to stop at a Thai restaurant, they'll know me, and then prepare me the hottest dish! Because they know, I'm eating hot. I say, sometimes I can't take that hot either!

The Thai cooking tool Pepper Teigen has when traveling with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend

What about people that want to be able to eat spicy food that just aren't used to it? Do you have any advice for people that want to like spice?

I always have chili powder in a jar and for both of us (me and Chrissy): a cup of fish sauce, cut-up chili — the red, the green — [and] big slices of garlic. And we put [it] in a jar, keep [it] in the fridge and we use it with everything! I mean, [all] meals. We [even] eat it with sushi ... Your tongue will kind of get used to it. And now, if I don't have any spice, I can't even eat [food]. Last night, we got sushi and I had to fry up some chili and roast the chili to eat with it. 

In the special, you talk about the importance of the wok for Thai food. You have a giant one at home. Are there any other important tools that we need to have in our kitchens if we want to be making more Thai?

For Thai, of course, the wok, and then the pestle and mortar. Sometimes I carry [one] around the world with Chrissy and John. Because even when we are on vacation we are cooking ourselves [our own] food. And we have one luggage filled with tools: the pestles, the wok, that we bring our own, and some ingredients that we know [we'll need]. We do some research before leaving, and we bring whatever we need.

 For people who want to start cooking Thai food regularly, do you have any cooking tips that you can share?  

Cooking Thai food, at our house, we already [always] have rice. So everyone — children included — have rice and we got vegetables. And, I just want people to [know] — maybe the easiest thing is to try stir fry. With some protein that you want, [with] vegetables, get soy sauce, stir fry over the rice. Test it the way you like it. It's so easy, you don't have to be afraid. You don't have to add any spice if you don't want to. Add a little bit at a time. So, don't be afraid. Everyone can do it. It's so easy. A lot easier than you thought.

Somebody walks a into Thai restaurant for the first time. What should they look for on the menu? What should they order?

For me, I had kind of like a chicken sauté, Pad Thai ...  Be sure to tell them not too spicy like level 1, 2, 3. You can go with level one. That's like the usual Thai before you go out. And mostly stir fry, it's not spicy.

Pepper Teigen talks cooking for the former first lady

You've cooked for Ellen. You've cooked for Kelly Clarkson. You've cooked with Giada De Laurentiis. Who's been your favorite person to cook with so far. Who might you want to cook with in the future?

You know, I cooked for Hilary Clinton one night and it [was] no pressure for me. I'll never forget it. And I loved it. I just love [to cook], any anybody [who] asks me to cook for them, I will. I will do it and it will be a pleasure, my pleasure to cook for any celebrity.

What did you cook for Hillary Clinton?

I made sticky rice mango. I made custard in a pocket. Yes, yes. And she loved it, of course!

That sounds like an incredible experience. You can reach so many people through food! Thank you for being such a positive force in bringing your food to the world.

Thank you so much, it was a pleasure for me to be with my family and my grandchildren. I'm so honored and loving every minute. We are just creating memories for the children and grandchildren.

"Getting Spicy with Pepper Teigen" Premieres on Saturday, November 6th at 12pm ET/PT on Food Network and Will Be Available to Stream on discovery+