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Rarotongan food celebration expands to week-long festival

Saturday 25 June 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Entertainment, National

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Rarotongan food celebration expands to week-long festival
Pitmasters competition judges and organiser from 2021, Jamie Urwin (left), Adam Winter (middle left), Thomas McDonald (event organiser, middle right) and Ken Van MacKelbergh (right). Photo: Supplied/21080250

Following the successful Barbecue Pitmasters competition in 2021, the event has been turned into a week-long food festival that’s set to get bigger.

The Raro Fire and Food Festival in partnership with Cook Islands Tourism kicks off today at the Social Centre with a barbecue and finishes Saturday next week at the Rarotonga Sailing Club for the Pitmasters competition.

Tom Mcdonald said it was a step up from last year’s sole barbecue competition. 

“We’re making it into a week-long event, obviously post Covid there’s a need to create some excitement for tourists and stuff,” Mcdonald said.

“Saturday is the big finale, it’s just going to be a massive festival of food.”

In the lead up to the event there will be a boning and butchery course on Tuesday, a lesson from a couple of New Zealand’s best barbecue teams and a umu-hangi fusion hosted by social media content creator Stef the Maori.

Mcdonald said although umu and hangi were similar there were differences.

“There are some different twists and techniques and Stef the Maori really brings a contemporary flavour profile to that, and he’s quite a funny bloke so there will be some funny anecdotes told I’m sure.”

For the final Pitmasters event - based on feedback from last year – Mcdonald said there will be more food available.

“Raro Fire and Food festival is intended to become an annual event and get bigger and bigger each year.”

Mcdonald said the plan was for the Pitmasters event to be part of the New Zealand Barbecue Alliance’s competition circuit, which would mean NZ teams could use the competition to go towards the national title barbecue title.

Adam Winter, who was a Pitmaster judge last year, said the advance from this year to last year’s competition was going to be pretty huge.

“Seeing some kiwi teams as well is going to be pretty cool.”

Winter owns the Four Sauceman a barbecue rub business based in Auckland named after his team.

Winter said he was really impressed by the calibre of cooking last year.

“I was really surprised, quite blown away.”

Mcdonald, who owns Uncle Tom’s Barbecue Shop, said barbecue had taken over his life.

“That’s very much how barbecue kind of works, it’s not just cooking, it’s not necessarily cooking because you have to, it’s actually putting love and passion into the cooking and that comes out into the food.

“You can tell when someone really cares and has really prepared nice food, it’s very obvious.

“I think humans we’ve got to the stage where we’re eating for something more than just survival, you’re eating because you like the flavours or you’re eating because it’s healthy, and barbecue is just one of those vehicles to get there.”

Mcdonald said the explosion of barbecue was happening all over the world.

Meanwhile, Cook Islands Trading Corporation (CITC) has partnered with the Raro Fire

and Food Festival, and is inviting the public to come along to their “Cook Up” on Tuesday.  

As a warm up for the final pitmaster competition, the festival’s local and international

barbecue icons will be firing up their smokers and barbecues, to feature the CITC butchery’s

“Great Smoked or on the BBQ” meat selection, for the free tasting, that is open to all.

As a key sponsor of the Raro Fire and Food Festival, and in addition to hosting the Cook Up;

CITC’s lead butcher will be hosting a butchery workshop/demonstration for the pit masters.