In the culinary world, contrast is the secret to success. For many dishes and food trends, like salted caramel, salt and vinegar chips, and anything on a menu that starts with “sweet and sour,” conflicting flavors can often yield a unique final product. This is because, when two opposite tastes meet in your mouth, the difference brings out the best in both ingredients… and balances out what might be too strong on its own. It’s a very “you complete me” moment for your taste buds and one local maker is hoping to cash in on this natural coincidence.
In the American South, there is no more iconic example of rival flavor magic than a sizzling piece of fried chicken drizzled with honey. Though this tradition is much-loved, Ames Russell of Ames’ Hot Southern Honey wanted to take it one step further. Russell bottled up his first batch of red chili-infused honey to give away as Christmas gifts in 2015 and the demand for more turned the experiment into a business. Since then, Russell has been a very busy bee.
“I’m getting the interest of some big retailers, and I’m getting to the point where I’m really going to need to scale-up,” said Russell, whose spicy/sweet honey was inspired by an old recipe he found while hunting for the perfect fried chicken recipe. To make his hot honey, Russell needs to buy up to 60 gallons of honey at a time— that’s 12 five-gallon buckets of thick, liquid gold. That much honey isn’t easy to come by, but Russell was determined to keep his sourcing local.
“I called a bunch of producers in the Richmond area and none of them had the quantity I was looking for,” said Russell. “I knew that Ardent Brewery had a beer with honey in it, so I contacted them… and they connected me with a guy in Waynesboro who aggregates a bunch of small [honey] producers up and down the Shenandoah Valley.”
Russell cooks, bottles and brands all of his product himself, and in the growing artisanal community of Richmond, he’s found success and support from customers and as well as businesses. Currently, his honey can be found in Union Market, as well as on the tables and cocktail menu of the local restaurants like The Savory Grain.
With his brand gaining momentum, Russell’s goal is to keep the buzz going.
“I want to establish a really solid distribution in Virginia, and also have it available to restaurants and bars,” said Russell. “Working with other food producers, maybe a brewery adding the honey to a beer or a bourbon. I am speaking to a woman who makes chocolate, [about] doing a chocolate with a hot honey center… what I really love is talking to people about the product and sharing it.”
Although immediacy continues to move much of our shopping experience forward, the push for local products made with personal care is a growing indication that the human element is something consumers don’t want to lose. Even if it’s possible to get most anything with the click of a button, there’s something about knowing your producer by name that’s the bee’s knees.
Keep up with Ames’ Hot Southern Honey, and find out where to score some of your own, on Facebook here!
Top image via Ames’ Hot Southern Honey Facebook