From Phnom Penh to Poundbury: George Norbert-Munns is bringing the delicate gourmet flair of Kampot pepper to the UK’s foodie scene
With the festive season upon us, it’s time to start cooking with some gourmet ingredients and to pop a few celebratory corks.
But what about using the champagne of pepper?
New Zealander George Norbert-Munns spent a decade living in Cambodia, where he discovered the flavours of the Kampot pepper. He now runs his spice business near Dorchester.
Kampot pepper cultivation dates back to the 14th century, and it is one of the finest ingredients in the world. Highly sought after by chefs (and therefore an ideal gift for foodies), it’s little wonder it was the inspiration for George to set up Stony Groves.
‘There is pepper … and then, galaxies away, there is Kampot pepper! It can only be produced in one small and stunningly beautiful region of steamy southern Cambodia, which is known to have produced peppercorns for centuries. ‘It is farmed using traditional techniques and produced on a relatively small scale. Worldwide pepper production is measured in hundreds of thousands of tons per annum, whereas only 100 tons of Kampot pepper is produced each year.’
Strictly controlled production ensures its quality, retaining its international reputation. Among chefs it is known as being the finest pepper in the world.
‘After almost ten years living in Cambodia, we knew that Kampot peppercorns were the finest around. In fact, Kampot pepper has been granted Protect Geographical Indicator (PGI) status, which formally recognises its quality and excellence and effectively makes it the champagne of the pepper world. So when I set up my own business, pepper seemed the right place to start. I began by offering black, red and white Kampot peppercorns alongside fragrant long pepper, which has a richer, almost Christmassy smell.
‘I launched Stony Groves at the Dorset Food and Arts Festival in Poundbury in 2021 and was immediately blown away by the positive reaction. Since then we’ve extended to food festivals right across the UK and also offer salts, smoked products, grinders and spice blends.
‘The blends were inspired by my love of cookery. As a child, I loved nothing more than being in the kitchen with my mother in Christchurch, New Zealand. In fact she loves pepper almost as much as I do! I’m still very much the cook at home and I relish experimenting with new flavours. And now I enjoy introducing them to my own children.’
Since leaving Cambodia, George has made Dorset his home – and discovered the vibrant foodie scene in the county.
‘After many years as an owner/operator of bars and restaurants in Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s bustling capital), my wife and I felt it was time to move on, start a family and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life. We chose Dorset to be near to her parents and because of the beautiful countryside. When I first moved to Cambodia in 2010, I’d originally looked into starting a pepper business, but life led me in a different direction. I revisited the idea during the long days of the Covid lockdowns – and Stony Groves was born.
‘I quickly found that south west England is a foodie paradise, with plenty of amazing markets and food festivals to explore. But I also saw that there was a lack of awareness here about the powerful pepper that we’d long enjoyed in Asia. I felt the two could be a match made in heaven, and I also hoped to share my love of quality ingredients with a wider audience – whether that was in people’s kitchens or in restaurants or cafes here in the UK.’
However, it’s not just the food. George and his family love the Dorset countryside.
‘Living in the countryside again reminds me of when I was little. My three brothers and I used to drive around Castle Hill, deep in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, in our father’s old Land Rover … sometimes doing things we probably shouldn’t. One day the gear-stick broke so we drilled in a screwdriver and, voilà, we were back on track! One of us steering, one of us changing the gears, one of us on the pedals and one of us giving directions. We were a disaster waiting to happen, but what fun.
‘Now I enjoy long Dorset walks with the dog, fishing the rivers and sea, and being located in striking distance of so many lovely towns, villages, beauty spots and food havens – there you have it, heaven!’
Most of us have probably been to food festivals and markets, bought a new ingredient, and then wondered what to do with it. There shouldn’t be that issue with Kampot pepper, there is a lot of inspiration on the Stony Groves website (including an incredible-sounding mulled wine recipe, for those looking for a seasonal winter warmer …).
George also has a top personal recommendation:
‘I’m a big fan of prawn linguine with fresh Kampot peppercorns. Start by melting some butter and gently frying an onion. Get the linguini on, then add king prawns to the onions. Once almost cooked, add the garlic, white wine and a little bit of Japanese rice wine. Plate with olive oil, grated parmesan, parsley, and our pink Himalayan rock salt. Finally, and most importantly, throw in at least a dozen of our Stony Groves Salted Fresh Kampot Peppercorns. Job done.’