Beyond her work as a star and executive producer of Netflix’s Bling Empire, Kelly Mi Li has been building quite the portfolio for herself as an entrepreneur.
After founding one of the first successful tech incubators in Los Angeles in 2012, Mi Li went on to have an incredible run of early-stage investments, contributing to rounds of major tech start-ups such as Change.org, Me Undies and Nature Box.
And, now, she’s adding her very own food product line to the mix with Hot Jiang—starting which her family’s secret-recipe chili oil.
“During filming for the latest season of Bling Empire, my mom was teaching me how to cook some of my favorite childhood dishes, and I asked her why I could never find that spicy taste I loved elsewhere,” Mi Li explains.
Her favorite dish, a Kunming specialty called 小锅米線 (Little Pot Rice Noodle), had been her go-to order wherever she could find it, but it never seemed to taste as good as the one her mom prepared at home.
“My mom then revealed that she uses a special family sauce in her cooking, and this sauce was the unforgettable spicy taste that I had been searching for!”
Immediately, she saw the writing on the wall. This was not just something special they could share with each other, but share with the world. A proverbial love letter to the cuisine of Kunming (Yunnan province), where she and her mother immigrated from decades prior.
“Growing up in Asian culture, my mom and I didn’t really learn how to communicate and connect,” Mi Li shares. “The feeling I had of never being good enough and our culture’s lack of expressing emotions created a wall in our relationship and made it hard for us to find a common ground, but I wanted to change this.
“When my mom and I are together in the kitchen, it’s a completely different atmosphere,” she shares. “Cooking together has helped us bond and open the door to communicate. I’ve never seen my mom more passionate and proud to share something so personal to her.”
With her mom’s support, Mi Li managed to pull the entire business together—including its first three products—in less than a year.
In fact, she’s moved so quickly the business (which technically launches next month) already has new products and collaborations in the pipeline.
“As an Asian-American immigrant, I walk in the beginnings of many before me and after,” she says.
“I’m still learning about my family’s past and ancestor’s culture, while also living in the American culture here. If there’s anything that I’ve learned so far, though, it’s that everything I do reflects my parents, grandparents, and so on. So, I know how important it is to honor, appreciate, and share my culture with others.”
Outside of Hot Jiang, Mi Li continues to invest in Asian, female-owned companies and has also co-founded a nonprofit organization—Golden Voice Society—with the mission to fight systemic hate in the AAPI community.
Each purchase of Hot Jiang’s chilli oil, and its future products, will help fund the organization.
“I’ve always strived to pursue cause-based ventures that I’m truly passionate about, so this direction for Hot Jiang fits in perfectly with everything else I do,” she says.
“I believe that every job and past project in my career has helped prepare me for this moment to finally bring Hot Jiang to the world with my team…and my mom.”
Hot Jiang’s homemade chili oil is vegan, keto-friendly and available in three spice levels (Mild Spicy, OG Spicy, and Extra Spicy) at hotjiang.com for $13.99.