We are so excited to finally sit down and talk to the man behind the hot honey bottles many of our customers have raved about! In this interview, Michael Kurtz, founder of Mike's Hot Honey, shares his passion for traveling, hot sauces and pizza. Join us as we uncover his story, from his first encounter with hot honey to where his honey can be found today!
When I first tasted it, it was like a revelation for me! We were hiking in this national park for five days and hadn't eaten besides canned beans. We were so excited when we found a pizzeria in the small town we were in. I've grown up making pies and hanging around my friends' families' pizzerias and I loved eating pizzas and making them at home. The pizza I ordered was drizzled with chili pepper-infused honey, which just blew my mind! When I got back to the States, I started experimenting with my own infusions, which turned into a hobby. I made batches for families and friends for 6 to 7 years, but never thought it would become a business.
I tried 15-20 different varieties of chili peppers and even grew my own at some point! I eventually settled on the Brazilian chili peppers because of its unique taste. While most chilis hit the front of the palette, this one hits the back. The sweetness comes first then the spiciness lingers in your throat after.
I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts in a family who loved to cook. There wasn't a lot of international food where I was from. The selections in supermarkets were so limited, you couldn't even find Tapatio or any other common hot sauces! I remember there was this one company called Hot Mama's that sold fresh salsa packaged and refrigerated, not canned, and I thought it was such a great thing! I started going to Chinese grocery stores in New York and Boston to check out their chili sauce and fish sauce. I would bring them home and cook with them, not knowing what I was getting myself into. When I was 26, I worked as a travel blogger for the Boston Globe. I went around the world with a friend for a year trying condiments in 30 different countries. I got to taste Rémoulade, which is similar to tartar sauce, in Northern Germany and Denmark. I also had Akabanga, a hot chili oil from Rwanda, which was so concentrated that you can only add a drop or two!
I was at Paulie Gee's one night when Paulie came by my table to talk to me. I was asking him all these questions about pizza doughs and ovens. He saw how curious I was and invited me to make pizzas in his restaurant. At that time, I was working in the music business, which is what I studied for in college. I would go to my day job, make pizzas at Paulie's at night and make hot honey until 1am. One day, I brought in a bottle of my hot honey for Paulie to try. He liked it so he started using it on some of his pizzas. Soon customers started approaching me asking if I was the guy behind the hot honey and where could they get their own.
Definitely! My parents actually met in Brazil in the 50's. My dad joined the Peace Corps and stayed in Rio for a couple years. He came back to study Portuguese and led a team of undergraduates on a trip to Brazil as a grad student. My mom was among one of the undergraduates and that's how they met. My parents listen to Brazilian music and speak it so I've learned a lot about Brazil growing up. I speak Portuguese every time I'm ordering chiles over the phone.
Anything from Blue Hill, another restaurant we work with in New York. They are a farm to table restaurant so they only use locally grown ingredients. Their bartender, Ben, would make cocktails with whatever's in season. During the spring time, he would make strawberry cocktails with Mike's Hot Honey. In the fall, he would switch it up with Concord grapes.