In The Pepper Thai Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, Apr.), Teigen shares Thai recipes and anecdotes of living with her daughter, model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen, and her family.
What was it like writing a cookbook given your daughter’s food-world fame?
I never thought I would be able to write a cookbook because I mostly cook using my intuition. I usually look at what is in the pantry and make a meal out of it. I learned how to cook in Thailand from my mom, who worked at a cafeteria. When I moved to the United States, I had to learn to cook on my own. Chrissy has always loved my cooking and told me, “Mom, you’ve got to put your recipes in writing and make a cookbook. I keep posting pictures of your food. Everybody asks for the recipes, and I don’t know what to tell them!”
After moving to the United States in the 1980s, how did you adapt your cooking?
In Seattle, Chrissy’s father and I bought a tavern. I started to cook there, but it was difficult to adjust flavors at first because I like my food very spicy. Fortunately, people were willing to try new foods, even back then. I would travel anywhere to get basic ingredients, like rice or noodles, and finding vegetables near me wasn’t a problem. For other ingredients, I used substitutions. Instead of Thai basil, I used Italian basil because the flavors were very similar.
How is it to work in the kitchen with Chrissy and her husband, John Legend?
I used to cook with Chrissy a lot when she was little. There are some Thai dishes that require a lot of working hands—like egg rolls, spring rolls, and sausage. Nowadays, we take turns. Of course, Chrissy loves cooking. John makes fried chicken and eggs. When we cook together, it’s a lot of fun. My grandchildren, Luna and Miles, get involved. We try to teach them about cooking, and Luna has learned a lot. We also grow a vegetable garden at home that has foods like lemongrass, tomatoes, and varieties of basil. At the end of the summer, we freeze some for later use.
Do you have any advice for home cooks who are making Thai food for the first time?
Honestly, I think cooking American food is more complicated! My advice to home cooks is to not feel intimidated, because cooking Thai food is a simple and quick process. There are a handful of staple ingredients, such as soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili sauce, garlic, and green onions, that we use all the time. There are also plenty of vegetables in Thai food. You can pull out whatever is in your fridge or freezer and incorporate it into the dish.