Renae Wetere, the chef behind Taranaki’s first hāngī eatery, says that she wants to help bring Māori kai into culinary mainstream. To Wetere, however, hāngī is more than just food; it’s an expression of love.
Earth Oven Hāngī Roast House opened over the weekend in Waitara, and customers came flocking in to get some delicious kai. Wetere said, “You know you go on your journey as an adult and as a young adult, but you should always come home, and you’re coming home for a reason, and that’s to give back. It’s to give back the knowledge. It’s giving back an experience that you have offered to everybody else. And for me, before it’s a business, we have created a whare.” Wetere has spent the previous years running some of New Plymouth’s largest hotel kitchens but decided that it was time for her to return to her community and give back. Wetere looks to be able to eventually open up healthy eating workshops at the venue, as well as looking for other ways to inspire and connect the local community.
The eatery is using Kōhatu Hāngī Cookers that have been developed by Wetere’s stepfather, Hone Stephens. Hāngī brings out flavours that are unlike other methods, and Stephens believes that the secret to his cookers were the heated volcanic rocks. “The fat and the juices from the meat as it is cooking drips down and hits the rocks and it turns into two things. It turns into steam, but more importantly, you create smoke, and that smoke goes through the entire kai, and it infuses it with a flavour that’s the hāngī flavour.”