Elements: Hélène Darroze

The two-Michelin starred chef shares her lifelong fascination with a rare pepper that has become the cornerstone of Basque cuisine

Photography – Benjamin Swanson
Photography – Benjamin Swanson

In the Basque country you never use black pepper, you always use piment d’Espelette (Espelette pepper) to season ingredients. That’s our culture, so I have always cooked with it.

It’s not a very strong pepper; it’s piquant, a strange combination of sweet and spicy flavours. I get mine from a little provider in Espelette, in the Labourd province.

It’s a small and very unique culture, and in order to be sold as piment d’Espelette, farmers have to follow some strict rules. For example, you can only water them once after planting. After that, they’re only allowed rainwater, unless the grower is given special permission from France’s agricultural regulator.

We worked with a small dairy producer to create an Espelette pepper butter, which is now on the table at the beginning of lunch and dinner at all of my restaurants. It’s ideal for seafood too – poached lobster in this butter is amazing.

It’s a really nice pepper that’s very flavoursome. Once tried, it is never forgotten; you will never want to cook with anything else.

Hélène Darroze’s eponymous restaurant at The Connaught hotel, London, has two Michelin stars.

This article is taken from PORT issue 19, out now.

Elements: Black Molasses

The master blender for Mount Gay Rum, Allen Smith, explains the importance of ‘black gold’

Back in the 17th century, when it was discovered that molasses could be fermented and distilled into a fiery spirit called rum, the Caribbean islands became an important part of the world economy. That’s how molasses got its nickname as ‘Black Gold’.

Molasses is a by-product of sugar production and is made when sugar cane is harvested and stripped of the leaves, and its juices are extracted usually by cutting, crushing, or mashing. This juice is then boiled to concentrate it in a process known as ‘first syrup’, creating a liquid with a very high sugar content. A second boiling of the liquid and sugar extraction creates ‘second molasses’, which has a slight bitter taste; it’s the third time that the sugar is boiled that creates the typical dark, viscous blackstrap molasses, with its robust flavour.

Mount Gay Rum has been distilling rum from molasses since 1703, and we certainly still regard it as our ‘Black Gold’. This element is so important to us that only last year, Mount Gay Distilleries purchased the historical Mount Gay plantation: the very land once managed by our founder Sir John Gay Alleyne in the 18th Century. We’ve finally reunited the historical sugar cane plantation with its original distillery.

Allen Smith is the Master Blender for Mount Gay Rum. He recently launched Mount Gay XO Cask Strength, a limited edition of the award-winning expression XO, in celebration of 50 years of Barbadian Independence