The Park Hyatt Siem Reap teamed with Starling Farm last Saturday to launch a Masters of Food and Wine menu designed to celebrate the unique flavours of Cambodia’s most famous export, Kampot Pepper.
This is the fourth Masters menu at the Hyatt, which director of sales and marketing Sarah Moya says allows the hotel to explore Cambodia’s culinary landscape and add its own touch.
“The Masters of Food and Wine gives us an opportunity to add a creative twist and showcase the best of Cambodia’s culinary possibilities, and on this occasion it’s great to have a partner with such a magnificent farm in the hills of Kampot,” she said.
The combination of Hyatt know-how and Starling Farm’s high quality spices has resulted in a menu that highlights four different peppers – red, black, white and green. The menu is now available for any diners wishing to explore the best of Kampot Pepper’s fiery flavours.
The menu starts off with delicate beef tenderloin cured with red pepper and tossed together with mozzarella cheese, cherry tomato, grilled pineapple and rocket.
This is followed by a smooth green asparagus soup whose grassy tones are offset beautifully by smoked trout and the sharp, spicy notes of a black pepper mousse.
For executive sous-chef, Martin Robl, red pepper goes perfectly with the cured beef that is rich in mineral flavours.
“Red pepper is fruity and perfectly matched with cured beef which you usually pair with salt and sugar,” he said. “In this case, we replaced the sugar with red pepper, giving it a fruitier flavour. Grilled pineapple was a natural choice too, as it also goes very well with red pepper.”
Charcoal grilled Mekong lobster, with pumpkin puree, snow peas and a white-pepper béarnaise sauce is a feature of the main course. The delicacy of the lobster is lifted, without being overwhelmed, by the milder flavours of white pepper.
In the dessert department, Robl imparts a delicious twist to an old classic of chocolate mousse with olive oil and sea salt by introducing green pepper’s milder citrusy flavours to the mix.
The menu is accompanied by wines specially selected by the Hyatt’s food and beverage manager, Ben Pinsent. With a different wine for each course, diners start with an gorgeous, peppery, Pinot Noir, followed by a bright Sancerre for the soup, and then a mineral-rich Pouilly-Fuisse to accompany the Mekong lobster, topped off with a heady Qunta de Noval Tawny port for dessert.
Kampot Pepper is regarded as the premier pepper in the world, and is the first Cambodian product to receive its own protected Geographical Indication – to qualify, farms must cultivate their crops according to strict guidelines.
Starling Farm is a family owned plantation started in 2000 by Anna Him and her partner Mark Hanna, working together with Anna’s uncle. Their first planting of 300 poles has since given way to a huge concern with 10,000 poles each yielding between 2.5kg to 3kg of peppers per year.
“At first it was just fun,” said Anna Him. “Although people thought we were crazy because our farm was in the middle of what had until recently been strong Khmer Rouge territory. We didn’t know that when we bought it, but we never had any problems anyway.
“Those first 300 vines were just a hobby for us, to see what we could do, and in our first year we only harvested 100kg,” she said, adding, “We really didn’t know what we were doing.”
Now though, the farm sells its pepper all over the world, with the biggest markets in Canada and Germany.
Ronni Dalhoff, marketing manager for Starling Farm, explained what makes the pepper from this part of the world so exceptional, and wine fans will recognise the principles of terroire that are so definitive for wine’s production.
“Kampot sits on really rich mineral soil,” he said. “Based on limestone hills that face out to the sea, you have the benefits of the minerals, and the sea salt combining to lift the flavour of the pepper.
“Then you have the climate, which is not too rainy, and quite big temperature variations during the day which pepper needs to grow properly as well. And with the hills, the soil drains really well.
”It is really the perfect combination of all the elements.”
The hills are fringed with limestone caves that are full of bats, and pepper farmers harvest the guano which goes into the fertiliser mix for the vines, together with tiny fish that are caught off Kep and Kampot, all enhancing the flavour of the berries and productivity of the vines.
Food fans can enjoy the full Masters of Food and Wine menu for $128++ when served together with the selected wines, or $88++ without wine. A 24-hour advance booking is required.
For those who just want to get a taste of the power of pepper without fronting for the full menu, Ben Pinsent has concocted a unique cocktail based on Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber, lime, coriander and freshly ground pepper. The cucumber and pepper martini is wonderfully refreshing and smooth, with a hint of spice, and only $8.
Alternatively, the hotel also serves a G&T as it was meant to be, with lemon, tonic, a cucumber garnish and a grinding of fresh pepper – from Kampot of course.