A Blackpool-born entrepreneur is hoping to spice up the country’s kitchens using the “King of Pepper”.
Michael Winters, originally from Marton, who was a student at St Mary’s RC High, is bringing a gourmet pepper to the UK which has been one of the best kept secrets of French cuisine.
I had travelled to Asia and particularly India many times but wanted to go off the beaten track in 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 lives and works in London, but whose family still live locally, discovered the pepper on a career break in South East Asia in 2008.
He said: “I had travelled to Asia, and particularly India many times but wanted to go off the beaten track in places such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
“On the journey out I got talking to a woman on the plane who had a relative with a guest house in a place called Kampot in Southern Cambodia.
“So, I went there and discovered a French / Khmer company who was helping the local farmers, and formed a company called FarmLink ltd. to cultivate this particular Kampot pepper, which is very popular 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, and Khmer Rouge took over from 1975, he turned the area over to rice production and the vines were ripped up. There were only a fraction left 2 decades later, only cultivated by a very small number of farmers."
“They used to export 8,000 tons, mainly to France, and that completely stopped and only recently is the export business building again. It is of premium quality, a bit like Maldon is a premium salt. It is used by top chefs in France and beyond. I believe Raymond Blanc is a fan and has used it for years in his cooking."
“It was featured on Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey programme and he was very 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 harvested first and amounts to about 70 per cent of the production. Then comes red and then finally, the white."
“It has a distinctive, intense flavour so you don’t need to use too much. With the black, first you get the heat then comes an almost floral aroma. The red has a smoky sweet flavour and the white is zesty in both aroma and taste."
“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 mineral rich."
“They hand grade and sort it with tweezers and then it is vacuum packed at source – a totally organic product. It is an internationally GI protected food product, one of just two from Cambodia.”
Michael 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. It's a poignant demonstration to show how the farmers have fought back from the devastation of the regime. It is being marketed online and in delicatessens nationally. He said he was hoping to sign up a deal with specialist food shops and the more discerning larger retailers.