Ken Kodys is a beast -- and I mean that in the most complimentary way. No, I'm not referring to his size, although he is a large man at 6'6". I mean that creatively he is a beast, and a stone-cold killer in cocktail competitions. Ken is also one of the most energetic bartenders I have ever met. He has many projects in the works, and still finds time to compete and thoroughly enjoy his life outside of work. Perhaps as a result he is one of the most genuine and true people in this wicked business.
Ken recently won the local 42Below Cocktail World Cup finals, and a trip to Miami to compete in the US Finals against our country's top bartenders. In Miami, he took top-three honors and the right to represent the USA in the CWC finals in New Zealand. When he leaves for the land of the Kiwis on September 3, he will become the third Colorado bartender to represent team USA in five years (only New York and California have managed similar feats). Cafe Society last interviewed Ken in October 2009, and the time seemed right to catch up with him again...
Sean Kenyon: I just read your Café Society Behind the Bar interview from October 2009. Besides looking a lot different, what's changed for you in that time? Location? Philosophy? Life outside of work?
Ken Kodys: Oh, mama, what hasn't changed? In 2009 I was 27 and living in Boulder, managing a nightclub. Since then I have had several jobs and each has been a completely different style of venue and each has been amazing for what it was. Root Down was and still is my favorite restaurant in the city, if not the country. Stir cooking school is amazing; I encourage everyone to take a class with Katie. The Breckenridge and Wynkoop breweries' fourteen venues are my current locations as beverage manager, and I am loving my job and the company.
I can't think of a company that sums up "Colorado" better than Breck-Wynkoop. Currently I am helping them re-open Gaetano's, which is so much fun and a bit of a trip with all the history behind that place. I really believe that we are showing that history in the new design; I am really excited about that project. Between Matty Durgin helping and Kyle West managing that bar, it will be killer! I am also still doing my own consulting on the side and I am currently working with the guys moving into the old Samba Room in Larimer Square: 24-hour comfort food with a killer bar program at a really affordable price range....I think it will turn some heads.
As far as my philosophy, I am just hitting my one-year anniversary with my wonderful, sexy wife, Noelle, and I would say that pretty much sums up my philosophy: I love my work and I love my wife. The balancing of the two is something I am working on right now. I would call myself a workaholic, through and through, and once I entered into this relationship I re-evaluated everything. I still work too much to be married, but I have found myself looking forward to days off a lot more.
If I am not working, I am moving around...I can't sit still. I try to play guitar but have the skills of a drunken hobo and a singing voice that would make Bob Dylan sound like opera. I have a huge, yellow '90s decal-ed van that is named Sally and we take her on road trips as much as possible. Noelle, especially, is a truck-stop junk junky! You've won a couple of big competitions recently. What is your approach to a competition?
I am competitive by nature, but not with other people. I compete with myself and specifically my psyche when I am going into a competition. I want to make something that appeals to the most broad range of guests as possible while also being as funky as possible. My motto is "simple but different," and I focus on keeping the ingredients between five and seven. If I know a new trend is blowing up in the scene, I stay away from it because chances are that a good portion of the competitors will be doing that or using that. Basically, I watch YouTube videos making fun of craft cocktail bartenders or Mixologist and I do the opposite.
I really appreciate molecular mixology, but I will not be doing it anytime soon on a regular basis. I think that helped me place in the 42 Below comp in Miami -- i was one of around six people in a field of twenty-two that did not use molecular techniques. I used what I had, and that was some old-school bartending skills like communication and some storytelling ability, mixed with clean and sanitary presentation without too much flair. Congratulations on winning the local 42 Below finals and moving on to taking top three in nationals. Now you will get to represent the USA in the Cocktail World Cup in New Zealand. Tell us about the experience up to this point.
Life changing...to be able to say that I am on "Team USA," I wouldn't care if it was pine-wood derby racing -- being able to say that is so cool. I am really lucky to be on a team with two bartenders from two of the top cocktail bars in the country: Steve from Employees Only and Beckaly from Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, who works with one of the greatest minds and personalities in the industry [Jeffrey Morgenthaler]. We have been communicating non-stop, coming up with recipes and performance pieces. I think that we are going to do well and our performances are going to be killer in New Zealand.
I have to admit that I am terrified of heights and I will be asked to bungie jump, and I am still deciding how I am going to get out of it. What are you in for in New Zealand? What are the plans?
To me, it is business first -- as dorky as that sounds. I am there to learn as much as possible and try to win. My buddy Mark Stoddard explained to me that three countries are tied over the history of the comp, each with two golds. The U.S. is one of those countries, so truth be told I want us to be the first with three golds in the Cocktail World Cup.
What has driven, motivated you and influenced you over the course of your career? Service is the first thing I think of. I want to treat people right. Show them things that they have never thought about. With this comes learning and exploring with recipes and all other aspects of service. I love what I do and I want people to see that. I want to give guest an experience that they can't have somewhere else. You may be able to get a specific cocktail anywhere, but to have someone make your day better while you are sitting at their bar -- that is what bartending should be all about. Right now I mainly work with training our staff, and the first thing I want to instill in them is service. What's your spirit animal?
Funny you should ask... I am a bit crazy and actually took a workshop six months ago on Shamanism in Boulder. My spirit animal is a Grizzly; he is pretty chill. We hang on the beach and talk around a campfire. He gives pretty good advice. Can you share your winning recipe with us?
Hell, no. Actually, yes I can:
1.5 oz. 42 Below Honey 1 oz. Honey vanilla chamomile tea .5 oz. lime juice .75 oz. rhubarb honey white vinegar syrup 1 bar spoon of Art of the Age Rhuby .25 oz. cream
Shake all ingredients, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnished with a Ken Kody's-made vanilla sugar wafer topped with rhubarb jam!
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Best of luck to Ken: Bring home that gold and let's have a drink when you get back!