Mick Kipp, Firing Up the Holiday Salsa One Christmas, former stunt man Mick Kipp gave everyone he knew a bottle of hot sauce he made. That idea grew into a business. He tests his latest concoction for us: chocolate cayenne hot sauce.
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Mick Kipp, Firing Up the Holiday Salsa

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Mick Kipp, Firing Up the Holiday Salsa

Mick Kipp, Firing Up the Holiday Salsa

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

It's not just the movie studios who are vying for your holiday dollars. Lots of little businesses live and die by their holiday sales. One of them is Whiskey Island, a hot sauce company in Baltimore run by one man, a genuine character, actually. His name is Mick Kipp. And on the day our producer Tracy Wall stopped by his hot sauce laboratory in a little church basement kitchen, he was madly toiling away on a new recipe and wearing pajama bottoms in a chili pepper print.

Mick Kipp used to be a stunt man. But 15 years ago he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. He survived, but found himself looking for a new line of work.

Mr. MICK KIPP (Owner, Whiskey Island): Yeah, but you make the best of the situation. It's like someone hands you a lemon, you make margaritas, you now, you make it happen.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KIPP: One year at Christmastime, in '96, I wanted to make Christmas gifts for everybody. So I made a hot sauce, cooked it up in my kitchen. And I named it Cuyahoga Fire after the river that burned in Cleveland, which is my home town. And I gave it to friends. You know, I waxed the top. I broke my daughter's crayons into a pot and melted them down and I waxed the top and I put this great name on the side, the Cuyahoga Fire. And that was really fun, but the bottom line was all the response I got back from it was, this is great, you should do this again. And what started out as a one-time deal, just something to have fun with, became like my flagship product. And 10 years later, I'm still creating it, the same recipe I made that night.

And the thing that's interesting about that is that's the only recipe I ever created that hit on the first time, just because I had nothing to go by. Everything after that I threw it down the drain, I burned, I'd burned again; I'd throw it down the drain again, I'd taste it and I'd go, oh my God, that's awful. It eventually gets to a point where, you know, someone tastes it and they go, whoa, and they go, wow. And I go, got it.

ELLIOTT: Mick Kipp's holiday line this year includes Cranberry Salsa, extra spicy, extra pink. For Valentine's Day he's still working out the kinks of a daring new product.

Mr. KIPP: Well, people think chocolate, hot peppers - what are you doing? What the heck's that? But they're really quit natural together, kind of like chocolate and peanut butter, only on a much different scale. We're going to be adding to this; it's fresh fruit and nuts and onions and green peppers, but no garlic. Garlic and chocolate I'm not a big fan of. So the whole (unintelligible) is going to be excluded from this. We're just going to do peppers and onions. But onions and chocolate...

(Soundbite of blender)

Mr. KIPP: It's great with vegetables. It's great dipping sliced apples in. And you take the apples and you marinate them in lime juice so the apple gets a tang to it and the apple flavor with the tang of the lime juice, you know, and you dip and it's like, whew, now the warmth. Now you get the warmth. It's a little slight delay, but as people are eating it, it warms them nicely. It's like a morphine feel. It just relaxes the body. I don't know if that's a good analogy to use, but it just relaxes the body and calms you out and makes you go, yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KIPP: To experience life, you've got to put it in your mouth. The first thing you do when you're a kid is - to experience, you're putting stuff in your mouth. You try and figure out what it is. And the best way to feel life, experience life and taste life is just to stick the whole thing in your mouth and enjoy it.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: To see Mick Kipp at work and find some of his recipes, go to our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

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