Chrissy Teigen's Mom Pepper on Family, MSG & Those Times (Yes, Plural!) She Set the Kitchen on Fire
Pepper — who is teaming up with Ajinomoto to "school" Americans on MSG — opens up about teaching her family to be adventurous eaters, her go-to Thai dishes and her most memorable cooking mishaps
Is it any surprise Chrissy Teigen's mom is as funny and fearless as her daughter?
Over the years, Pepper — born Vilailuck — has steadily grown her own loyal following on Instagram with her informative and often-hilarious cooking demos and sweet videos of her grandkids.
As her follower count started rising a couple years ago, "I was so happy," Pepper, who began using social media "six or seven" years ago while she was still living in her home country of Thailand, tells PEOPLE exclusively. "Like, 'Wow, how many more today?!'"
The self-described "culinary enthusiast" teamed up with her daughter last year for Quibi's show, Chrissy's Court, but Pepper — who's currently working on her own cookbook — says she's just along for the ride.
"When Chrissy asks me to do something, I would do it. Helping her on Cravings was fun and not even work for me. It's fun being together and laughing. But actually, I'm telling you, I'm not good on TV!" she insists. "Right now, I'm just having so much fun with the grandchildren, cooking for them and putting them to bed. That's when I'm happiest."
Here, Pepper — who is teaming up with Ajinomoto to "school" Americans on MSG (one of her favorite ingredients!) — opens up about teaching her family to be adventurous eaters, her go-to Thai dishes and her most memorable cooking mishaps.
What misconceptions about MSG would you love to set the record straight on?
I've used MSG for a long time — since I was a kid! People have myths about it over here, and I want to help people have open minds and learn about it more. It's safe and it adds flavor and taste. It's my secret ingredient. When I'm cooking for my family or for people visiting, I always use it. It's in my purse, it's in my bag, it's in my coat. I have to clarify with customs all the time about my MSG. I even add it into food we order — take it home, add more, especially for Chrissy. I even add some into American food, like spaghetti sauce and scalloped potatoes. I add it into gravy. The children love it. I pinch a little bit into the spaghetti sauce and it brings out so much flavor. I put MSG in a beautiful jar, and the other day I went into the pantry and dropped it. I just screamed, like "John, I dropped my MSG!"
We've seen Chrissy eat some really interesting things on TV. What's the most adventurous dish you make at home?
Chrissy loves spicy chicken — all parts inside the chicken. I like making it from the neck to the bottom, and very spicy. I add MSG, holy basil and she loves it. I've made beef jerky with soy sauce, MSG, some pepper — and then I dried it outside. Chrissy said, "Mom, we could have food poisoning!" I hung it all in a net.
Do you encourage your family and even people you work with to try different kinds of food?
[Before the pandemic], we had people come into the house almost every day. I'm Thai, so I always offer food every time someone comes and they love it! Our house has two big pots of rice, and I make curry. Even the young people have more open minds now. They never ask what it is — I just say, it's good food from Pepper! We travel all over the world with [my granddaughter Luna, 4, and grandson Miles, 2], and I introduce them to all kinds of different food. They're just like Chrissy when she was little. I sometimes don't tell them what something is, but they end up liking it. Then I let them know what it is!
When did you start learning to cook?
When I was little, I was mom's helper because she was a cafeteria lady in school. I started from around Luna's age, four or five years old. Then when I came here in 1983 I had to survive, but all I knew was from my mom. It was pretty hard to find [Asian] ingredients 40 years ago, so I had to [find] substitutes for Thai ingredients. I didn't have papaya to make papaya salad, so I used carrots or cabbage and shredded it up. I made food every day when my children were small and also made their dad American food. Then I made myself Thai food and introduced the kids little by little to eat with me.
What's your favorite dish to cook with Chrissy and Luna?
I look back on [old videos] where we've been cooking with her, and Luna loves it! We make coconut pancakes which have coconut milk, coconut flakes and fresh coconuts. Luna's my helper, like a sous-chef. Chrissy loves noodle bars. We use rice noodles, egg noodles and mix it up.
What advice have John or Chrissy given you about being in front of the camera? You seem like a natural!
I'm so shy. Every time I saw the camera, I [froze]. I could be really good and fun, and as soon as I'm on camera I was [so nervous]. Chrissy yelled at me, like "Mom!" She told me to be myself.
You're not afraid to get down and dirty in the kitchen. Have you had any cooking mishaps?
A million. Many times the house has caught fire. Chrissy was frying an egg roll and it went on fire. We had a firetruck come by and had to pay a $500 fine. They came but didn't have to do anything! We already stopped the fire. I love making sausage, and Chrissy wouldn't let me hang it outside. She said we were going to get sick, so I hung them on the chandelier. She said, "Mom, I'm going to throw this out!" So I took it and hung them in my room. They were everywhere. When I make it, I make a lot so we can freeze it. But first you have to hang them and let all the grease drip down. I hang them for two or three days, and they get fermented with everything — MSG, garlic, rice. It's so, so good. One time I put them in the oven and forgot to turn it off. We opened it up and the sausages all disappeared. They were gone — turned into dust! I wasn't even afraid. I was like, "Oh my God, I have to put this up on Instagram."
You're a family of snackers! What's your favorite middle-of-the-night comfort food?
Chrissy is just like me, she eats late. Sometimes at 1 or 2 a.m. she will text me: "Mom, make me instant noodles!" I'm like, "Okay, I want some too." We add some vegetables, a little dash of MSG, cut in onions, cilantro, a little fried garlic and chili powder. Ooh, it's so good late, late at night. We travel with instant noodles too. Just in case I can't eat anything, I have my noodles!
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