January 2012

Piment d’Espelette

Culinary maverick LUDO LEFEBVRE mixes heat with sweet and continues to bend the rules of French cuisine
by SARAH TAYLOR / photographs by BRIAN LEATART

  • Chef Ludo Lefebvre
  • The vibrant color of Piment d’Espelette is the barest clue to its power.
  • The spice waits to lend a jolt to a sublimely genteel mixture.
  • Lefebvre’s spicy chocolate mousse is served with supremed orange slices, olive oil and a sprinkling of orange zest.

Chef Ludo Lefebvre is a culinary rock star who departed the timeworn path of the classical cook after attaining advanced status in some of the most legendary kitchens in France. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1996 and began playing with flavors from far-flung corners of the world with skill and imagination, simultaneously freestyling with and rebeling against the rules—and he received raves for his pop-up restaurants.

It follows that a favorite ingredient of his is one that broadened his palate early on. Renowned Parisian chef Pierre Gagnaire introduced Lefebvre to Piment d’Espelette, a gently spicy chili pepper from the Basque region of France, and it was a revelation. “In France, we don’t eat spicy food,” he says. “At that time, it was scary to use this ‘red powder’ in the French kitchen. It was a totally new thing.” Lefebvre’s recipe for Spicy Chocolate Mousse is a delightfully surprising concoction from a master we’re sure won’t stop surprising us any time soon.


6 ⅓ tablespoons melted butter, cooled
¼ cup whole milk
2–3 tablespoons Piment d’Espelette
10 ½ ounces 70 percent cacao bittersweet dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
¾ cups powdered sugar
4 egg whites

In a saucepan, combine milk and Piment d’Espelette. Slowly bring to a boil, then remove. Infuse for 30 minutes and reserve at room temperature. Slowly melt chopped chocolate in a bain-marie or double boiler and whip cream in a large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and cooled melted butter. Add half of the powdered sugar. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly add rest of powdered sugar and fold in whipped cream. Combine hot melted chocolate, infused milk, yolk mixture and half of the egg-white mixture and whisk in a large bowl. With spatula, very gently fold in the rest of the beaten egg whites, so that the mousse remains light. Can be made ahead. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Serves 8.