From his humble beginnings where he started off mixing drinks found in his father’s liquor cabinet to traveling the world and mixing for the likes of Macy Gray, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Branson, Bono, Oprah, and various members of Royal families, to name just a few. Hayden, ‘(call me) Woody’ Wood, is not your average bartender. I caught up with the seriously fun personality that is Woody as he got ready to head over to New Zealand for The Food Show which takes place in Auckland this week.
From setting me straight about not being a mixologist to coming full circle at The Food Show, here’s what went down during our highly entertaining conversation:
How different is a mixologist to a bartender?
Well I’m not a mixologist, plain and simple. (Right, there goes the interview out the window.)
A mixologist is a niche of bartending and I guess a sub-category of the molecular mixoligst. Molecular mixology is like molecular gastronomy, the same principles apply but you apply them to drinks. Mixologist is just a term bartenders use to coin themselves with a bit more cred when they should really just be calling themselves a bartender. We’ve been discussing my actual title because I do so many different things. My title has been changed from ‘bartender’ to ‘person of interest’.
And what does a ‘person of interest’ do?
Well I’m currently producing a documentary series. I write books; I’m a publisher; I organize events; open hotels; I produce live theatre in the States and I do all sorts of different things with brands. I don’t think you can really technically class me as a bartender for much longer.
So how would you describe a day in the life of Woody?
Well let’s just put it today… today I was putting the finishing touches on a tropical pineapple recipe. I developed a whole lot of recipes for tropical pineapples, in food and in beverage might I add. I just had a conversation with one of my crew about an event called ‘Battle Shots’ which is like Battleship the game but twenty times bigger and the ships have shots of rum in them so when your ship gets hit you have to do a shot of rum. That’s touring around Australia currently. (It’s a dangerous game!) Ah, it’s wonderful! It’s a spectator sport from my perspective; I don’t really get involved in playing. And this morning from 6 o’clock ‘til 7 o’clock, I was on a phone call to New Orleans talking about products and developing a new series about bartenders in America. On my drive from when I first spoke to you (technical difficulties meant we delayed our initial conversation by 40 minutes) to here, I was talking to some other people about a series I’m producing over here (Australia)… so there’s a lot on my plate. And I’m going to New Zealand to rock it out with you guys!
You’re from New Zealand originally aren’t you?
Yeah, I was born in Napier. Born and raised.
(So do you consider yourself a Kiwi, an Australian, or are you a World Citizen?) Funnily enough there’s this new citizenship available during the Olympics called ‘Nowhereisand’. It has been created by a Swedish artist who has put 600 cubic tones of soil off the coast of Weymouth (South West England), you can become a citizen online and start creating a constitution. I think basically you are a citizen of where you belong and not necessarily where you come from. Yes, I have a New Zealand passport but I spend a lot of time here (Australia), in the States and in the Middle East. I love Australia though… and I love New Zealand, what do you say.
You were quite young when you made your first drink, was this something you wanted to do or something you just fell into and did you ever think you would come so far?
In terms of mixing drinks, I think it was kind of a fun night on New Year’s Eve when I was eight years old in my pajamas when I made that hideous drink that was Whiskey, Sherry and Port. (Sounds ummm… delicious?) No, it was awful and I nearly vomited. Things got better from there I must admit. (phew, you had me worried for a second.)
When I was a young teenager, I threw my first cocktail party at fourteen and then another one at fifteen for eighty friends. So I was really in the thick of it, really inspired through my high school years by a local bartender who had been running Rumors bar in North London and had come back to run what was then the Iron Pot Café’in Napier. So I was getting inspired by that and really applying it to what I did. Technically I should be a farmer; I come from a farming family like most people in New Zealand. It was in our blood but I just decided to break the mold and go for gold in something else. I was big in art in my high school years and my dad told me that ‘you’ll never make it as a painter’ so I just applied my artistic abilities somewhere else, in creating flavours and fun and events and things.
If we’re going to focus on the bartending side of Woody, what’s your signature drink at the moment?
Everyone’s asking me, what are you making? They’re asking me for recipes and ingredients lists before I get there (festivals, events, trade shows, etc.) and nowadays I just rock up, I’ll take a day to walk around the stands, or something like that and I’ll find some interesting products and I’ll mix something together. And then I’ll do that in my demo. So, the short answer is that my signature drink is ‘Improv’. It will be using basic principles that you can find in the book (The Liquid Kitchen)… but it will be using ingredients that you can find around you. Like anyone does, they go home, they go to their pantry or their fridge and go, what the hell can I open up and celebrate life with or get wasted on, they’re not going to have the exact ingredients so it should be improv. One of the biggest brick walls that I’m up against is that all of my buddies who are high-end, crazy ass bartenders, using like one of four hundred different spirits found in their bars. I’m limited to sort of like four ingredients in a drink because the audience that I play to, that is The Food Show audience, that’s all they’re going to respond to. I have to be creative within those boundaries.
Do you have any tips for mixing/creating at home?
Don’t put up too many boundaries and don’t listen to necessarily exact measurements. In baking exacting is important but in drink making. Often new drinks come as a result of wonderful mistakes that are then blessings in disguises. (So put it all together and hope for the best?) And remember, it’s supposed to be fun, don’t take it too seriously. People take it way too seriously sometimes and it’s not about that. If we’re talking about roast duck, that may be an exact science by now but if we’re talking about how to talk about a fun, flavored Margarita… well sure, we’re going to need limes and tequila and something sweet to go with it but within those boundaries, let’s find something that works, that’s what I’m talking about… have a little more freedom with it.
So, what are you going to be doing at The Food Show?
I thought it would be fun to bring the live food theatre show that I’ve been touring in the States. The Food Network teamed me up with Guy Fieri, he’s all about Rock n Roll and all American food. I was his opening act on tour. I’d produce his show and I’d piece together his whole thing with the production crew and then I’d step back from it to be the opening act. It was fun and it was a really nice dynamic and so I want to bring that to New Zealand. It’s ten years to the date when I started doing this. I started in New Zealand at The Food Show, on that stage ten years ago… and so this is full circle, it’s a decade.
You’ve met some amazing people through your work, what are some of your best memories?
One of the funniest ones and the best stories is of Quentin Tarantino getting lathered up on my Tarantino Martinis and deciding that the ice sculpture of Pai Mei, who’s like the old wise guy with the white beard that trains all the ninjas in Kill Bill needed a little bit of work. He took this 5th generation ice carving sword from Kenji (Ogawa), this world-champion ice carver and started smashing the ice carving and in the process he broke the sword in pieces because he was using it totally incorrectly. And then he turns around, I hand him another drink, he sinks the drink and says, “Fetch me my cheque book” and proceeded to write Kenji out a cheque for however many dollars it cost to replace it… it obviously was irreplaceable.
It’s funny because there’s ridiculous name-dropping in this world, it’s not about celebrities. I’m lucky enough to hang out with people who are very talented at what they do and that’s the way I look at it. I get to meet interesting people but the very last thing I’ll ever do is treat them like a celebrity should be treated and that’s probably why I’m invited back to have a party with them. I’m just going to treat them like a normal human being because that’s what they are and they actually really appreciate that and that’s why they do loosen up a lot because when people pander them, they tend to close up a bit and be a bit stupid. What goes on at the party stays at the party. (Here he proceeded to tell me a few party stories but unfortunately they’re all ‘off the record’ of course.)
And finally, what’s next for you?
You’re probably going to see less of me in this light as a fanatic, crazy bartender. I’m kind of putting it on the shelf for a while after this show to be honest. I’m focusing more on producing and directing documentaries, they’re all food and beverage related. I’m also focusing on producing events which are really interesting. I’m also looking at moving into the movie space, with a webisode series. It’s so much more powerful, I can reach the world… I don’t have to have support from a channel, I don’t have to have censorship and a title and all other things that networks require of me. I can produce web series for the net that everyone you’re speaking to can actually tap into and see. I can produce live TV that I can broadcast to the globe and that’s such an interesting and exciting space… that’s the space I want to move into.
I think I’ve done all I set out to achieve. If I imagine my dreams when I was a teenager, if I remember from those days and what I thought I could achieve from being a bartender, I think I’ve achieved it ten times over and then some. I’ve shared the same stage as The Foo Fighters, I’ve played in the same theatres The Who and The Beatles have played in, I think that’s as good as I imagine it will get. I’m in my thirties; it’s time to change it up a bit. (That’s amazing, not a lot of people can say that they’ve achieved what they always dreamed.) I don’t want to try and better it because I might be here for another thirty years and I don’t want to get bored of it. I may as well shelve it for a while, while I’m in a space where I think it’s as good as it’s going to get and I’m just happy with my achievements and move on and try and achieve something else.
You can find out more about Woody and his Liquid Kitchen adventures on his website. If you’re heading down to The Food Show this week, don’t miss out on what will surely be a highly entertaining Masterclass hosted by the man himself.