This extreme sports enthusiast/restauranteur can go without food for days
Malcolm Wood, founder of luxe Chinese eatery Mott 32 in Marina Bay Sands, says there are lots of similarities between extreme sports and running a business.
But adventure athlete and F&B entrepreneur Malcolm Wood conforms to neither stereotype.
Tall, tanned and athletically slim, the half-British, half-Chinese 38-year-old is clad in a simple black tee, dark denim jeans, and a pair of classic leather brogues for our interview, and could easily pass off as an off-duty male runway model half his age.
“I think it’s my interesting childhood that’s shaped who and what I am today,” he said, in his elegantly plummy British accent.
Wood’s parents got divorced when he was still a child, so he lived mostly with his businesswoman mother and his stepfather, who worked in an airline – the job which saw the family relocating every two years on overseas postings.
Between the ages of seven to nine, and 13 to 16, Wood lived with his father in London. “He’s the reason I love being out in nature. He put me in skis when I was two, and we had winter holidays in Utah. He introduced me to golf when I was six. We often went hiking, and he’d also take me on weeks-long sailing trips, which saw us weathering some really bad storms out on a tiny sailboat,” Wood recalled.
A MULTICULTURAL LIFESTYLE
By the time he was 25, Wood had already lived in 12 different locales, including Taipei, Rome, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, parts of Canada, and Los Angeles.
“I was a multicultural kid with a very multicultural lifestyle,” he said. “That’s why I love good food – I used to spend a lot of time with my maternal grandma in Taipei, helping her make jiaozi (dumplings) and bao (buns with fillings); my paternal grandfather in the UK loved cooking too – traditional Brit fare such as roasts. All the different cities I lived in taught me to appreciate different cultures and their cuisines. You get so used to seeing and learning new things all the time. That’s why I’m always up for more travel, more adventure.”
Over the years, he added rock climbing, then mountain climbing to his repertoire.
In 2011, his passion for design and food led him to co-found multi-award winning Maximal Concepts, a hospitality group that has created and managed over twenty individual brands.
An avid conservationist, Wood got involved in film-making, co-producing the award-winning 2016 documentary A Plastic Ocean, which shone a light on the plastic pollution crisis, and which Sir David Attenborough hailed as “the most important film of our time”.
BRUSHES WITH DEATH
Six years ago, he took up paragliding.
“My mum says she doesn’t want to know what I’m up to, or she’d go crazy from worrying. Every so often, she sends me newspaper articles of mountaineers falling off mountains, to remind me to be careful. My wife understands and supports my outdoor pursuits – she’s Swiss and an even better climber than me! But since we have a 16-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son, it’s better we take separate adventure trips, in case anything happens,” he said, matter-of-factly.
Surely, he must have had several close brushes with death?
“Oh yes. When I was pretty new to paragliding, my mentor was giving me instructions via my headset as I was mid-flight, about how to handle some tricky thermal currents. The wind was roaring in my ears, there was lots of static and interference; I thought I heard him say ‘turn left’, when he had actually said ‘DON’T turn left’. A gust of wind caught my glider and slammed it against the side of the mountain, causing one of its wings to collapse shut. I free-fell about 300m and would have died if the wing hadn’t popped back open, just before I hit the ground,” he recounted.
There was also the time when he was in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca mountain range with the film crew for the documentary The Last Glaciers (scheduled for release in 2020), which highlights how climate change might pose the greatest threat to our extinction.
“It was the last day of our expedition. We were at an elevation of 6,000m and had run out of food and supplies, and a huge hailstorm had started up. We managed to return to base camp and were incredibly lucky to have survived. But the director still felt he needed a tandem shot with me to capture more aerial shots, so the next morning, we hiked back up to 6,000m without supplies to jump off a cliff together, and landed at 4,500m.”
“[Once,] a gust of wind caught my glider and slammed it against the side of the mountain, causing one of its wings to collapse shut. I free-fell about 300m and would have died if the wing hadn’t popped back open, just before I hit the ground.” – Malcolm Wood
HOW EXTREME SPORTS IS A LOT LIKE BUSINESS
Wood recently decided to combine all his extreme sports into a grand adventure termed “para-alpinism”, which saw him and Dave Turner, one of the world’s most accomplished climbers and paragliders, climbing several prominent peaks across different continents, before paragliding off them.
“There are only about 50 people in the world involved in such an extreme cross-disciplinary sport. I’m not a crazy daredevil adrenaline junkie,” he clarified.
“My wife understands and supports my outdoor pursuits – she’s Swiss and an even better climber than me!” – Malcolm Wood
“I like the physical and mental challenge, how it forces you to be really calm and focused. It’s not about taking risks, but managing risk. It’s a lot like business – you need to be a master of your craft, have good knowledge of what you’re dealing with, to make a careful study of the situation, to calculate risk, know what you can and can’t control, how to stay safe, know when to proceed, and when to walk away from danger. If you do it without protecting yourself properly, you’re just crazy. You might make some mistakes, just don’t make them twice,” he said.
The brand ambassador for outdoor apparel brand Arc’teryx is also one of the poster boys of UN Environment’s campaign Mountain Heroes, alongside other famous athletes such as Canadian iceclimber Will Gadd, Austrian cyclist Michael Strasser, Kenyan skier Sabrina Simader and adventurer Ben Fogle, helping to draw attention to emerging environmental issues in mountains including climate change, waste and biodiversity loss.
In addition, Wood sits on the Board of Advisors for several organisations, such as the Skeena Wild Conservation Trust, which helps protect the habitats of British Columbia’s wild salmon stock, and the Hong Kong Shark Foundation, which aims to get Asians to stop eating sharks fin. His restaurant group is also the first in Hong Kong that advocates ethical sourcing, environmentally friendly practices, while aiming to be 99 per cent plastic free in its operations.
“Some people may think my passions for extreme sports and conservation, are completely at odds with my being in the restaurant business, but I think it’s perfectly logical for a nature- and food-lover like myself to incorporate all these elements in my life. If you love food, you’ll care about where it comes from. Why, say, a certain tomato tastes so different from another type of tomato. And you’d want to spread the message about promoting sustainable living and protecting Mother Earth. Everything is linked; you can’t take without giving back,” he said.
“[Extreme sports is] a lot like business – you need to be a master of your craft, have good knowledge of what you’re dealing with, to make a careful study of the situation, to calculate risk, know what you can and can’t control, how to stay safe, know when to proceed, and when to walk away from danger.” – Malcolm Wood
THE NEXT CHAPTER
“Funny thing is, I never went to film school, business school or culinary school, but here I am, doing what I’m doing,” Wood, who graduated with degrees in finance and financial law, mused.
“And since everything is linked, I believe in doing everything I want and need to do, all at once. This morning, the other two company directors and I held a meeting while working out together in the gym,” he shared.
“When I travel for work, I try to take my kids along too, and try to arrange hiking trips before or after my work. I wake up at 5am every morning to tackle my work emails, so by mid-morning, I can work out for two hours. Because I have to do so many food tastings, I eat one big meal a day with lots of good food; but when I’m on expeditions, I’m okay making do with really simple food, or even no food at all for days, after our supplies have run out,” he said, with a shrug.
“When you’re used to taking calculated risks in extreme sports as well as business, nothing really fazes or shocks you.”
“Because I have to do so many food tastings, I eat one big meal a day with lots of good food; but when I’m on expeditions, I’m okay making do with really simple food, or even no food at all for days, after our supplies have run out.” – Malcolm Wood
And what are Wood’s plans for 2020 and beyond?
“My next big outdoor adventure would be to ascend 8,000m without oxygen, sometime within the next 18 months. German mountaineer and North Face athlete David Goettler is my mentor for this trip. I’m also planning to set a new world record – but I can’t say what for because it’s still a secret!”
Also in the pipeline is a documentary about the extent and impact of air pollution in Asia.
“It makes me uncomfortable that in Hong Kong, I have to check the air pollution index before I decide whether to let my son go outdoors to play. The air pollution is also pretty bad in India, and now, Australia, because of the bushfires.
“We were recently interviewing a group of children aged four to 18, and were shocked to realise that lots of kids suffer from climate anxiety – they’re worried about how they are going to survive in an uncertain world where there may not be clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, safe food to eat.
“This documentary will arm kids with solutions and teach them to be agents of change. Parents want to be heroes to their kids. If a child approached his parents to ask where there was so much plastic being used in the household, or pointed out that the family could still eat well while consuming less meat, these can help in a push towards more sustainable lifestyles,” he said.
“Some people may think my passions for extreme sports and conservation, are completely at odds with my being in the restaurant business, but I think it’s perfectly logical for a nature- and food-lover like myself to incorporate all these elements in my life.” – Malcolm Wood