Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mick 'The Pirate' Kipp

He survived bouts with Hodgkin’s disease. He wore a bandanna after losing his hair while undergoing chemotherapy. He never took the bandanna off, and it became his signature, 'pirate,' look. He created hot sauces, and said, "Eat My Stuff!" He endeared himself to a city, saying "Oogy Wawa!" Mick 'The Pirate' Kipp died, suddenly, Saturday, at age 51, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mick Kipp & Ken KrucenskiMick Kipp (l) with Baltimore publican Ken Krucenski, in 2009.

Kipp grew up in Cleveland, became a film stuntman (sought out for personal pyrotechnics), and moved to Baltimore, where cancer ended his career. Not missing a beat, Kipp became a food entrepreneur, creating and hawking hot sauces via his Whiskey Island brand.

Kipp would bartend —and become famous for his pirate persona— at several Baltimore 'watering holes,' Pickles Pub, outside Camden Yards, for one. I first met him in the mid-1990s, when he was working at The Wild Mushroom a bar, in the Canton neighborhood, well ahead of its time. Kipp featured Belgian beers; he and I shared many a goblet and story.

His Whiskey Island hot sauce and catering business did well. He won prizes at the Fiery Foods Challenge, as well as garnering Scovies —the 'Oscars' of hot-foods. He was a regular at Baltimore farmers' markets and beer festivals, offering his wares. Kipp decided to remain true to artisan roots, deliberately keeping his business smaller in scope. The Baltimore Sun profiled him in 2006.
[A] passion for food, the artisanal side of the business, is what keeps Kipp going -- even as, in some ways, it's what holds his business back. "Unless I'm doing thousands and thousands of items, I make very little and everyone else makes very much," he says. Ramping up at that scale also might mean losing control of quality. He has known microbrewers who started with a passion for hops, grain and good beer, but became full-time marketers as their businesses grew.
Kipp's brother tells him that he's "too attached" to Whiskey Island and that the business was "meant to be sold." Kipp instead identifies with the small farmers he works with every Saturday at the Waverly market and he wants to concentrate on building a strong local customer base.

Kipp was only recently in the news. For several years, he had volunteered as kitchen manager for "Empty Bowls," a soup festival fundraiser for Baltimore's homeless.
A soup tasting event allows people "to enjoy something that people who are homeless need," Kipp said. "Homeless people want something that tastes good and fills their belly, and nothing does that better than soup."

What struck anyone who would meet Kipp was his almost zany zest for life. This not-tall man had an out-sized personality, a powerful handshake, and infectious aura of enthusiasm. Baltimore writer and baseball historian Charlie Vascellaro has written a moving, personal tribute, at the Baltimore City Paper. One of the many comments posted there captures the man's essence:
He was a wonderful advertisement of the quirkiness of our fabulous Baltimore city.

Here's Kipp interviewed on National Public Radio in 2006. Follow his recipes; eat his stuff! Rest in peace, Mick Kipp: pirate, stuntman, hot sauce entrepreneur, good beer advocate, cancer warrior, and lover of life.

  • UPDATE: A fundraiser to help defray college tuition for Kipp's daughter has been announced for 19 September at Heavy Seas Brewery (in Halethorpe, Maryland.) That day just happens to be Speak Like A Pirate Day. Details: here.
  • "In addition to a buoyant, cheerful personality, the man could cook," said Rob Kasper, the former Baltimore Sun food and beer columnist, of Mick Kipp. Read more at the Baltimore Sun.
  • Sign the guest book at Legacy.com.

1 comment:

  1. Mick was a friendly competitor who we didnt see enough, but I remember eating his tasty food at Heavy Seas brewing during a Beer Week. Nick's Backfire Seasonings (and hot sauces) salutes Mick and his whiskey pirate legacy! RIP our kindred spirit.
    Nick Nichols and family


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