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.