Starting his career at the freezing works, he progressed through culinary school and into the NZ food industry as a chef, working alongside heavy hitters like Al Brown. This path ultimately led to Champion Knives, where Hayden’s second-to-none experience comes alive. Fusing his creativity with functionality, Hayden breathes life into unconventional materials to create meaningful pieces that take Champion to another level.
Taking inspiration from being outdoors in Aotearoa, Hayden combines fine artistry, craftsmanship, innovation, and a wealth of food knowledge to create bespoke cook knives – a true Change Maker in the purest form.
Tell us the story of the first knife you ever made: what significance does it have to you? Are you still using it today?
It took me a few attempts to get to a knife that was functional and I was stoked with. I had watched a few YouTube videos, and had an idea of what I wanted it to look and feel like, so with some basic hand tools and a beautiful chunk of black walnut from a friend's farm, I got in the shed and created my first cooks’ knife. I felt so proud of what I had created, and put it to work straight away at an event in the Hawkes Bay, feeding a whole bunch of people. It still gets used every day in my home kitchen, and holds a whole lot of sentimental value.
Sentimental value cannot be underestimated when it comes to a tool used often in the kitchen to create good food for good people – tell us more about your passion for knife-wielding and where it came from.
I have always had a fascination with knives. As a young kid it was a badge of honour to have a pocketknife. My first job out of high school was at the freezing works on the slaughter board, where mostly everyone is using a knife day in and out. Onto culinary school, and cooking for a living, knives have been my life in a small way, but I never felt that connected to any that I owned. That changed the day that my friend and boss, Al Brown gave me a handmade knife as a gift. I had never owned a knife like that before, there was a warmth to it, a deeper value that I could feel.
That deeper value associated with bespoke craftsmanship is an aspect that’s present in everything you create for Champion Knives. How did your business come about?
Creation has always been a main driver in my life, and something that has been both fulfilling personally, but also how I have been about to travel around the world, and support my family. That creative hunger isn't that easily satiated, and I have always looked for new avenues to learn and make meaningful things on top of busy work life. I come from a reasonably practical family, my father a great carpenter, my uncle built airplanes, another uncle a boiler engineer who would fix cars and motorbikes effortlessly, and that's something that resonates with me. Finding knife-making feels like a jacket that fits, and so I am happy to wear it as long as I can.
And how has your business and skillset changed from when you first started until now?
Being a self-taught maker, it's changed in the sense of skill and knowledge I have gained over the years, and the processes I use to create. It's still just me in my shed, listening to music and sculpting knives, but that's how I like it. I only ever wanted this to be a creative outlet for me to express myself and connect with likeminded people, and so I feel grateful that it delivers those key elements.