Mix-man Letoa the people's choice

Ray Letoa

DIY cocktail-making can often mean searching the cupboard for a liqueur (generally the blue one you don't remember buying), and mixing it with whatever is in the fridge. The result can leave a lot to be desired.
That's why it is best left to the likes of Ray Letoa, whose flair for cocktail creating won him the People's Choice award at the 2014 Diageo Reserve World Class National Finals, and third overall.
For Letoa, 26, mixing drinks is not just his job, it is a performance.
His stage is the Roxy Cinema Bar in Miramar, where he started at the box office counter three years ago.
He managed to impress the guests at the competition in Auckland with his "Tanque-Ray 10 Gin Journey" cocktail, containing Rose's English Breakfast Orange Marmalade, marzipan-flavoured syrup and camomile tea foam.
"It was a twist on a breakfast cocktail," he says. "Instead of foraging for the most exotic ingredient, I wanted to use things that can be found in the fridge."
The competition consisted of three "gruelling" rounds of cocktail making. But it was not just about creating a tasty beverage, he says.
"You really have to grab their attention, hold a crowd, entertain them and make an amazing drink. You can be an amazing bartender on paper but you have to have the people skills and hold conversations."
He feels lucky to be getting paid for something he loves. "You never feel like you're working.
"I get to meet people from all facets of life, you don't know who's going to walk through that door. You could say most bartenders are unofficial psychologists. I'm going to stick at it for a long time."
While Letoa is big on cocktail modernity, he is reluctant to completely write-off old classics such as pina coladas and cosmopolitans.
"Those are the cocktails you learn when you start out, you have to pay homage to them. But modern bartenders just like to reinvent what you're used to and put a spin on it.
"What's happening in Wellington to the culinary culture, we're doing the same, only in liquid form."
For Frankie Walker, Diageo's "luxury spirits ambassador", it was no surprise that Letoa won the People's Choice.
"People love him. He's a showman and he's a great character."
Letoa's winning cocktail can be ordered at The Roxy as of today.

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