Michael Kurtz, of the eponymous “Mike’s Hot Honey,” has been making this chili pepper-infused goodness since 2011. Born in Brooklyn, NY, the super versatile condiment gained popularity by being drizzled on some of the borough’s best pizza pies, but as fans know, this stuff is delicious on practically anything: in marinades and on roasted or BBQ’d meats, to fruits, cheese, salads, and even ice cream! The Honey Week crew can confirm: it’s especially tasty in cocktails, too.
How did you get interested in honey and why did you decide to make it hot?
Oddly enough, pizza was my bridge into the world of honey. I've always loved making, eating and talking pizza. I lived in Brazil as a college student. I was on a camping trip with some friends and we hiked into a small valley town where we visited a tiny pizzeria. The pizzeria had jars of honey with whole chile peppers sitting in them for drizzling on top of the pies. I love spicy foods and pizza and I really liked the flavor of the chilies and honey on the pizza. When I returned to the States about a year later, I began experimenting with different infusion techniques and different chile peppers and varietals of honey until I settled on the recipe that I still use today. In college, I had early prototype bottles of my infused honey in my cupboard; I called it Mike's Hot Honey from day one. Mostly, I just made it for my own personal use and sometimes I'd make larger batches for friends and family. In 2010, my pizza obsession led me to Paulie Gee's where I became a pizza apprentice. I eventually started working there making pizzas, and one day, I brought in a bottle of my hot honey for Paulie to try. He liked it and asked if I could make enough for the pizzeria to use on top of their pies. I started making it in small batches for the restaurant and people would come up to me while I was making pizzas asking if I would sell them to-go containers of the honey. Eventually, so many people were asking me for to-go containers that I decided to take the plunge and bring Mike's Hot Honey to market.
Where do you get your honey from and what kind of honey is it?
Mike's Hot Honey is made with wildflower honey from Stiles Apiaries in Jefferson County, NY.
What's your craziest pepper-related story?
Once, I was in the kitchen making a batch of Hot Honey and I got a chili pepper seed stuck in my eye. If you've ever accidentally rubbed your eye while handling chilies, you know how painful this can be. Now, multiply that pain one-hundred times over, and that's what it feels like to have the seed trapped in your eye. After several minutes of frantically splashing water on my eye it came out--and thankfully, it did not leave me blind.
What's your favorite way to use your hot honey?
It's tough to pick a favorite. Lately, I've been enjoying it with extra sharp cheddar cheese and granny smith apples, but Mike's Hot Honey drizzled over pizza, especially pies with savory toppings, is probably my all-time favorite use. I’ve also been enjoying it in cocktails, and look forward to experimenting more in this area.
One of my favorite parts of making a condiment is putting it into the hands of chefs who are far more talented in the kitchen than I am, and letting them work their magic. My friends Allison and Keavy opened a bar recently in Crown Heights called Butter & Scotch and they are using it in a cocktail called the HoneyChile Rider (Fords Gin, Passion Fruit, Mike's Hot Honey, Lemon and Bittermen's Tiki Bitters). It's delicious!
*Editor’s note: The HoneyChile Rider happened to be the winner of the Popular Vote at 2014’s Queen Bee Cocktail Classic!
What's the strangest thing you use your hot honey on?
The other day, I was demoing my honey at Dépanneur in Williamsburg and one of the baristas said she had been using my honey in her cappuccinos. I was very skeptical at first but she made one for me and it was actually quite nice. It has a slow burn that hits you on the back of your pallet with each sip.
What kind of peppers do you use?
We use Brazilian chili peppers. My parents met in Brazil and I went to school there in college. Before I started Mike's Hot Honey, I worked in music business with a bunch of Brazilian artists so I have very strong connection to Brazilian culture, music and food. Mike's Hot Honey incorporates this connection through our chili peppers.
Favorite bee pun?
I love Journey....Don't Stop Beelieving is always in heavy rotation at Mike's Hot Honey World HQ.