Ames Russell has become known around Richmond as the man to see about hot honey, often equipped with a bottle, or three, on hand. After founding AR’s Hot Southern Honey in 2016, Russell has introduced the “Hot Honey Cookbook,” featuring over 60 recipes, including a number of contributions from area chefs.
Russell got his start with hot honey making the concoction at home for his family. His creation quickly won them over, as well as his friends, so he decided to shift gears and start selling it officially. Now, his products can be found on retail shelves and restaurant menus nationwide and locally from the Virginia Shop in the Library of Virginia to Lombardy Market. The product lineup includes everything from the classic original flavor to bourbon barrel-aged and wildflower varieties, along with honey-based hot sauce and peanut butter.
“I’ve always wanted to have a cookbook, because one of the top things people ask me is, ‘What do you do with hot honey?’ ” Russell says.
Russell’s background in sales and business development has helped him learn the skills of entrepreneurship as his business has grown.
“Every day is a challenge,” he says. While running the business, he has had to become good at problem solving, “Nine out of 10 times I come out on the other side having learned something, and I am better for it,” he says. “It is a lot of work.”
He typically hands out a brochure to customers with recipe ideas at tasting events. In Russell’s eyes, hot honey doubles as both a condiment and an ingredient, and his cookbook features ideas for a wide breadth of dishes from breakfast to the main course, such as bourbon-pecan coffeecake and Korean-style chicken wings.
The cookbook also includes an entire section dedicated to cocktails with a kick, the recipes created by Grisette bartender Elias Adams. Imbibers can whip up the Mariner’s Revenge, made with rum, whiskey and bourbon honey, or the That Will Do, made with cognac, chai and, of course, hot honey.
Russell says that, initially, a publisher wanted him to pay upfront to bring the cookbook to fruition. He declined the offer before receiving another, this time from Rock Point Publishing, which had taken notice of the growing hot honey trend. Partnering with a recipe developer, Russell worked to explore different ways to use the heat-tinged ingredient for the book.
“Some things were suggested that I didn’t feel were a good fit,” Russell says. “We went back and forth, but I got the last say in recipes.”
When he began to work on the book, he knew he wanted to present a final product with a little local flair and personality. “What that meant was including some people – local chefs and others – that had been part of my journey or contributed to the appeal,” says Russell, noting many of contributors had already been using his honey in their recipes.
Inside the book, home cooks will find creations from local chefs such as hot honey spoon bread from Shagbark owner Walter Bundy, fried chicken breakfast tacos from former Perch chef and owner Mike Ledesma, and hot honey s’mores brownies by Andrea Johnson, owner of Karmalita's Confections.
Johnson says that when Russell approached her about contributing to the cookbook, she was immediately on board. “We wanted to think outside of the box but still keep it fairly simple to execute, so the s’more brownies was a no-brainer for me,” she says.
Describing Russell’s honey as an unexpected but enjoyable addition to her desserts, she adds, “Even outside of my business, I will always find a way to use it. Plus, Ames is such a genuine and inspiring entrepreneur. Dope people make dope things!”
While Russell says all the recipes shine, the ricotta and peach crostini recipe contributed by his daughter, Helen Russell, remains his favorite.
Writing and publishing “was tedious work but exciting,” he says. “I had always wanted to focus on what I do best, which is selling honey, and let the publisher do what they do best, which is selling books.”
A true salesman, Russell couldn’t help but get involved with promoting the book. He says he helped with getting it to stores in Richmond, including Barnes & Noble. The cookbook is also available to order on Amazon.
“This cookbook is another extension of all the things we have been doing to build a brand that people want to be a part of,” he says.