Richard Woods - Head of Spirit & Cocktail Development

- interview by Sara Gorelick

Sara had the opportunity to attend the preview of the new summer cocktail program at SUSHISAMBA in Manhattan's West Village. All cocktails were prepared by Head of Spirit & Cocktail Development Richard Woods, who Sara later interviewed for BarNoneDrinks. Read on for more about the Englishman.

SG: Tell us a little about yourself.

RW: In terms of mixology, I've always gravitated to bartending positions that would permit me to be innovative and spontaneous and my role at SUSHISAMBA allows just that. I have also written on drinks in the past for publications such as Class and Imbibe. In 2007, I co-founded London Rum Fest with long time rum lover and fellow comrade, Ian Burrell. The festival has had unprecedented success and is currently in its seventh year; I serve as one of the Managing Partners.

SG: What is the atmosphere like at the restaurant?

RW: Across SUSHISAMBA locations you'll find unique cuisine and much-lauded design, but each city brings a different layer to the dining experience. For example, London is situated on the cusp of the city and Shoreditch, so the crowd is really eclectic. On any given day, you'll find the bars at the restaurant buzzing with DJ's providing the soundtrack to the cityscape. In New York, the restaurant is located in the middle of the historic, hip West Village with a rooftop, where guests can enjoy a cocktail and people-watch. And, Miami Beach's central location on Lincoln Road with promenade seating and two vibrant bars is a long-standing favorite in South Florida.

SG: Why do you like it there/what makes it special?

RW: The pace - there are always new, exciting challenges and opportunities to tap into my creativity. I'm primarily based out of London, where the views are the best in the city. So, on any average day, it makes coming to work feel like a dream...when the sky is clear, you can see for miles.

SG: What was the inspiration behind the new menu?

RW: I approach drink development the same way a chef creates a menu: by looking at the individual ingredients and building the drink around them. This particular menu features culinary elements that add an extra layer to the cocktailing experience.

SG: How did you get into the industry?

RW: I originally pursued a degree in architecture, studying design and the art of built environments. While enrolled in college, I worked at a local 'gastro bar,' where I pulled mostly pints, but also tried my hand at mixology. Thriving in the fast-paced, social atmosphere, my part-time job quickly became a love affair with the restaurant industry, starting with my acceptance of a full-time position for the company's flagship venue in the Soho neighborhood of London. 

SG: What is the best part of your job?

RW: Being creative.

SG: Do you have a favorite spirit or cocktail to work with? Why?

RW: No particular spirit...I don't consider the spirit to be the focus, but rather the flavor. When creating a drink, I work with flavor first and build the most appropriate spirit into the drink.

SG: What is your drink of choice at the end of your shift to wind down?

RW: Beer and a shot. When I go out though, I generally start with a Gin and Tonic and end my night with a Martini - gin, dry and slightly dirty.

SG: What do you want people to walk away from Sushi Samba saying?

RW: We're at the forefront of the cocktail scene - we're upping our game and bringing guests a newand fresh beverage program.