Fans are sure to recognise her face among Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s social media snaps.
Whether she’s cuddling up to her grandkids, Luna (5) and Miles (2), or cooking alongside her famous daughter, Vilailuck “Pepper” Teigen has been a constant presence in the online lives of social media’s beloved couple.
Now she’s ready to step out of the Instagram posts of Chrissy (35) and John (42) to bask in her own limelight.
Earlier this month she released The Pepper Thai Cookbook: Family Recipes from Everyone’s Favourite Thai Mom, a collection of some of her favourite dishes.
Here’s everything you need to know about the adorable 59-year-old granny with the megawatt smile.
Pepper’s humble beginnings
She grew up in the small city of Nakhon Ratchasima – unofficially known as Korat –in Isan, Thailand, where her grandparents were rice farmers.
The eldest of five kids, she was in Grade 3 when she began helping her mother, who worked in a school cafeteria.
"I started going to the market with my mom and came back at about five or six in the morning and just started preparations," she recalls.
"I was the sous chef for my mother before I could leave for school. At lunchtime I had to come down and help her sell, like a food vendor."
America comes calling
By 1982 she was a single mother to a two-year-old daughter, Tina, when she met Chrissy’s father, Ron Teigen, a travelling American electrician. Ron’s company had an office in Thailand, and he’d travel back and forth from there and Saudi Arabia for work.
The pair had been dating only a short while when Ron asked Pepper if she’d like to meet his family in Washington.
After consulting an immigration officer, the couple decided the easiest way to secure Pepper a visa was to get married, which they did in May of the following year.
“Next thing I know I’m on my first airplane ride,” Pepper recalls. “I think the in-flight meal was the first American food I ever ate – pepper steak, of course.”
Ron, Pepper and Tina moved to Longview, Washington, Ron’s hometown, where they lived in a trailer he rented from his father. The couple welcomed a daughter whom they named Christine in 1985.
While living in Washington, Ron and Pepper ran a tavern, Porky’s, and Pepper learnt to cook American food for her customers and two girls.
This was where she earned her nickname, after restaurant patrons sampled some super-spicy dishes which she’d made for herself and found themselves “screaming”, she says.
No stranger to heartache
Although happily settled into her new life in the US, Pepper was forced to start making regular trips back to Thailand to care for her ailing father who was battling lung cancer.
Pepper recalls being left traumatised after he choked to death in front of her. Then, three months after he died, her mother was killed in a train accident which sparked an intense bout of depression.
By the time Chrissy was 15, heartbroken Pepper had moved back to her homeland permanently and worked for a Thai family, teaching their children English.
Chrissy has since touched on her mother’s absence during her teen years, admitting she was so angry she even refused to talk to her over the phone.
"I never knew what depression was," Vilailuck told Vanity Fair of the dark time in her life. "Sometimes I thought about killing myself because I knew that my girls were mad at me."
Left to raise the girls on his own, Ron moved the family to Huntington Beach, California. There Chrissy started working at a local surf shop where she was scouted by a photographer, kicking off a stratospheric modelling career.
Splitting from Ron
Pepper returned to the US some years later, but by 2019 she and Ron had announced their split, finalising their divorce in May last year.
While their break-up might have come as a surprise to Chrissy’s fans, the model revealed that her parents had been living apart long before they made their separation official.
"Mom is over so much that she lives with us basically and they've had this kind of relationship for a long time," she told People in 2018.
These days, Pepper lives permanently with Chrissy, John and their two children.
What’s next for Pepper?
Following the release of her cookbook, Pepper is working on a TV show, the details of which remain under wraps. She also might open a restaurant with Chrissy.
She can’t reveal a great deal, as “[Chrissy] doesn't let me know so much because, you know, my mouth.”
Her first cookbook was something Chrissy, herself the author of two cookbooks, encouraged her to do, Pepper says. Although, she readily admits, growing up, Chrissy spent most of her childhood embarrassed by her uniquely Thai cooking.
"Mom's food looked different and smelled different – honestly, I was a little embarrassed about it when I was young," Chrissy says.
"She was, you know, in fifth or sixth grade and very popular in her class," Pepper recalls.
She said Chrissy would bring friends over to their house and she would tailor her cooking accordingly. Pepper remembers young Chrissy asking for grilled cheese and pizza, "like most kids".
In the book's introduction, Pepper writes about a time when she "put herbs in one of my Thai salads and [Chrissy] yelled at me, 'MOM! Why are you eating weeds?'"
Pepper's grandchildren, on the other hand, can’t get enough of their Thai granny’s cooking.
"They love my food! They always ask for it and I enjoy doing it. I am so happy,'" she says.
Pepper says her fried chicken is a huge hit with them, and Miles particularly loves her ribs – with lots of garlic.
Pepper is also granny to her daughter Tina’s tot, Pasha, who lives in nearby Las Vegas. Tina (40) shares the little girl, who is close to her cousin Luna, with her ex-husband, US motivational speaker Corey Speaks.
Sources: wsj.com, bustle.com, cnn.com, distractify.com, nickiswift.com, insider.com