7 Aug 2017

Ray Letoa: Samoan cuisine with a modern twist

From Nine To Noon, 11:35 am on 7 August 2017

Ray Letoa is one of New Zealand's top bartenders at CoCo at the Roxy in Wellington.

As part of this year's Visa Wellington On a Plate, Letoa is championing Samoan culture through traditional methods with a modern twist.

He and his mother will be cooking an enormous pig in a traditional Samoan umu, or outdoor oven, using rocks from the Waikato River.

Using liquid fat from the pig, he will then mix it with whiskey and re-age it in an oak flask for a new cocktail creation.

Letoa first got into cocktails watching his brother make them.

“I was my brother’s glassie!” Soon he had graduated to behind the bar where he has forged a reputation as one of the country’s top bartenders.

A natural sense of inventiveness drives Letoa’s mission to create new flavours.

“It’s the Wellington mentality of why not, imagine if we do this? Why not put whisky in pork fat and re-age it? We want to cause a sensation on the palette.”

He says he line between a cocktail and something more traditionally culinary is blurring.

“I’m Polynesian and cuisine is a massive part of our culture. It’s an intimate moment when you come to my house and you eat we’re sharing food and we’re sharing stories as well.”

The two pigs will be cooked up in Auckland then brought back south. The umu differs from a hangi, he says.  

“We got two 40 kg pigs, succulent with good fat in it - no rubs, no salt, no pepper but literally the pig in its purest form. We just chuck in some cabbage to add moisture and hot rocks and wrap it up.

“Rather than a hangi which is below ground, we have it on a hot bed of rocks above ground and it cooks through convection.”

And the new cocktail is called "Sonntag's Journey" which is Letoa’s middle name and reflects the German part of his heritage.

“Sonntag is German for Sunday.”