Pepper Teigen Stays Energized with Stir-Fried Spaghetti and Scooby-Doo

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Decades before Pepper Teigen became a sunny presence in American kitchens, she first encountered one herself in 1983. A photo captures the twentysomething against a backdrop of simple wood cabinets and time-capsule appliances. Her rounded bangs have a schoolgirl charm, even though she’s already a mother to a young toddler. (Her daughter Chrissy will join two years later.) There’s a quiet self-assurance in the Thai woman’s gaze, as she settles into life with her new husband in a double-wide trailer in Idaho. As Teigen writes in her debut cookbook, out this week, “I remember seeing a microwave in the kitchen for the first time and thinking it was a TV. Wow, everyone is so rich here they have TVs in their kitchens, I told my mom.”

Teigen, her face beaming via video chat earlier this week, is experiencing the arrival of The Pepper Thai Cookbook with similarly good-natured shock. “We’re just relaxing and chilling,” she reported from a family beach trip, “but inside my heart is pounding with excitement!” The 59-year-old’s rise as a culinary figure has been both unconventional and of the moment. Fame usually trickles down bloodlines, not up, but in the decade that she’s lived with Chrissy and her husband, John Legend, in Beverly Hills, Teigen’s popularity has steadily climbed. She’s appeared in videos and in the “Thai Mom” pages of her daughter’s early cookbooks. (That’s where the matriarch’s recipes for jok moo and glazed ribs first turned up.) On Instagram, some 431,000 fans follow @pepperthai2, a handle she reportedly started after forgetting the password to the original @pepperthai. Lately, as the resident Yai (grandmother in Thai) to Luna, 4, and Miles, 2, Pepper serves up photos of lunchtime larb alongside pint-size piano sonatas—savory and sweet. 

The Pepper Thai Cookbook

By Pepper Teigen with Garrett Snyder

Teigen, whose first name is Vilailuck, cooked in the Washington State tavern, Porky’s, that she and Chrissy’s dad ran in the 1980s. “I’d have a break and eat my own lunch—spaghetti or something like everybody else had, but I always added so much chile pepper, maybe some fish sauce,” she explained. “Everything I ate was spicy! Especially back when I was younger.” Occasionally a barfly would brave a taste of her noodles, and the nickname was born.

Her mother—a food vendor who enlisted Vilailuck’s early-morning help as young as 5 or 6—knew her way around herbs and vegetables. “Like the bitter squash. This thing is like medicine,” Teigen said with a wry grimace. “I’d listen to my mom, my grandma, who said, ‘Eat chicken feet, pig feet. It has lots of collagen—it’s good for your skin.” That kind of maternal nurturing has stayed with her this past year: excitedly catering to Chrissy’s Thai cravings throughout her recent pregnancy, and then mourning the subsequent miscarriage. (The book is dedicated to Teigen’s own parents and also to Jack.) 

Family is well-being for Teigen, as she chronicles in this three-day diary, peppered with morning green juice, Thai fables, and the occasional high-tech workout. “I want to do everything I can with my grandchildren,” she said, adding that she treasures every minute—even the 6 a.m. wakeup calls. “Sometimes it’s earlier than that!” Teigen stage-whispered, her eyes lighting up. “I say, ‘Luna, you’re not supposed to wake up yet.’ But I keep that a secret. We always look in each other’s eyes and we zip our lips: No telling, okay!”

Tuesday, April 6

6 a.m.: Luna comes into my bedroom and wakes me up. We hang out in bed looking at Snapchat filters and our Youtube channel. Sometimes Miles joins us too and we play a little before breakfast, and he does that today! 

7 a.m.: Children go to breakfast, and it’s time for me to get my coffee. It’s a nice day, so I’m doing my workout by taking a walk around the neighborhood. Afterwards I take a shower and get dressed and put on my face. For skin care, I use whatever Chrissy gives me—some creams. She gave me an oil made from plum seed or something. She said, “Mom, try this. I love it.” I’ve used that ever since. It’s so good!

9 a.m.: I come down to the kitchen and drink green juice. I’m not usually a big breakfast eater, so that’s enough for me, but I offer to make breakfast for anyone who wants it. Today, no one puts me to work! I sit down and watch Snapped and think about what to make for lunch and dinner. I answer social media questions and a few emails. 

11:30 a.m.: Grocery run to the Thai market! Usually once a month we have to get all the basics: rice, dried chiles, fresh chiles, coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce. They have everything. And then maybe some accessories, like the Thai broom that I love for sweeping the floor. Everybody loves it in my house.



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