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Mick Kipp, Firing Up the Holiday Salsa

Mick Kipp, dressed for work in his Baltimore kitchen.
Tracy Wahl, NPR /
Mick Kipp, dressed for work in his Baltimore kitchen.

In a church basement on the west side of Baltimore, there's a guy dressed in pajama bottoms and wearing a kerchief decorated with hot peppers.

His name is Mick Kipp. He's a former stunt man, survived a bout with cancer and he's now a fulltime salsa inventor. The church basement serves as his laboratory.

On a cloudy winter morning, he was at work on a cranberry salsa, a crawfish salsa and a salsa that blends cayenne pepper with chocolate.

His culinary career began when he made a hot sauce for Christmas one year and named it Cuyahoga Fire (for the river in Cleveland, Ohio, that was infamously set ablaze several decades back).

The heat in his food is a metaphor for life:

"Sometimes you spit it out, sometimes you swallow it," he says. "Most of the time it leaves a permanent reaction."

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In her nearly 20 years at NPR, Tracy Wahl has established herself as a champion for innovation in the newsroom. She was among the first at NPR to embrace social media as a way to engage audiences and deepen our journalism through crowd-sourced reporting. She launched Morning Edition's first Twitter account, and led the program's early ventures into multi-platform storytelling.