You would never know, if you drove past Jim Duffy's modest suburban one-story house on the outskirts of San Diego--a few pots on the porch, his son's gear on the lawn--that in the scruffy back yard Duffy grows some of the hottest and rarest chile peppers in the world. Duffy--who 6 years ago knew nothing at all about chiles except that they were good in his homemade salsa--runs the website Refining Fire Chiles (he recently bought a secondary domain name, Super Hot Chiles, which also links to the site), from which you can buy fresh chiles, chile plants and chile seeds.
Not just any chiles either, but Bhut Jolokias, Trinidad Scorpions, Naga Moriches and Trinidad 7 Pots, to name only a few. Bhut Jolokia chiles have been tested at one million Scoville Heat Units (SHUs), which puts them as the world's hottest chile pepper. "However," says Duffy on his website, "an unofficial test at Warwick University in England had a dried Naga Morich pepper pod come in at over 1,500,000 Scoville units." He'll tell you the same thing on the phone and in person; the man can talk chiles with the kind of heat and intensity that, well, I guess he's used to.
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This year Duffy is growing even more rare chiles and has moved the operation out of his backyard, which was decimated by the worst of the summer's heat waves ("it got up to 112 here"), to a larger site. Duffy grows his chiles hydroponically and uses lady bugs to control aphids. Right now his chiles ("they're up to the shade cloth now!") are about 3-6 weeks away from harvesting.
Check out the website's new 2009 garden page and his blog, where Duffy details his progress. The site also has useful tips on handling particularly incendiary chiles (Duffy, a single father, works with kids and donates his time to several area youth centers, so he's used to playing safety monitor); and he'll send you the salsa that was the catalyst for his entire project. Duffy supplies area restaurants, has a growing mail order business, and, 6 years into it, he feels like he's just getting started. "I have the capability of doubling this next year," he said a few days ago. And he's still hunting chiles.
Follow Duffy on Twitter @superhotchiles.