El Celler de Can Roca – a restaurant, an institution, a playground, a home. Twice ranked number one in the world, El Celler de Can Roca was opened in 1986 by the Roca brothers - Joan, Josep and Jordi, whose expertise and passion once united create a one of a kind trinity of food, wine and desserts.
The moment we entered their restaurant suddenly the air started smelling differently, carrying along one whole new melody. No, it was not the smell of food, neither the clinking sound of the pots. It was jasmine, birds song, peacefulness, warmth. A cosy oasis with no walls but plenty of greenery and natural elements spread in and out El Celler de Can Roca.
After shaking hands with Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca we felt like being family friends. Once other guests kept on coming, the same feeling was passed on.
All of this was only the first impression. What followed was a feast for our palates and both emotional and exploratory journey around the world, without ever stepping away from our table.
El Celler de Can Roca is a unity of three remarkable and at the same time very different individuals, who all work for a single goal and who have established a place that we perceive as one. What has contributed to achieving this?
Joan Roca: Yes, we are three completely different persons but we complement each other in a way to create something special. We were raised on the same values, but at the same time without any strategy comparing to what it has brought a result. Being the oldest brother was somehow the most natural for me to go and help my parents with their restaurant. Since the beginning I liked the kitchen so it didn’t take me long to make cooking my profession. For our middle brother Josep it wasn’t clear from the start what was his aspiration. Soon after he enrolled in the culinary school in Girona he discovered the world of wine and world of service. Being the youngest, Jordi had the longest time to decide where his passion is. After helping both of us and at the same time trying to realise where he belonged in the professional sense, he discovered the world of pastry. After each of us discovered his path, the love towards the craft and mutual complementarity gave birth to everything else that ensued.
What is also impressive about Roca brothers is the ability to go further beyond in creation, while never moving out from Girona. How do you explain this phenomenon?
Joan Roca: There is a simple answer to that – each of is a nonconformist. It is the way we are made and no one has ever forced it. Unlike our parents who haven’t been that experimental but kept on doing what they have been already very good at, whether it is due to different generations or simply personalities, the three of us have always been intrigued by knowledge, new ideas, creativity, travelling, improvement. Apart from our characters being the way they are, this kind of an attitude towards art, craft and life in general started from a simple goal to discover, as well as let others enjoy. To give our best and better every single day all for the sake of giving pleasure to whoever walks into our restaurant.
Would you ever consider leaving Girona as a pursuit of new ideas?
Joan Roca: As strange as it may sound, this “barrio” is our universe. It is where we were born, where our parents have established their business and had us being part of it from the early age. It is where we have started, studied and continued improving. It is where the love for this work has been born and at the same time where the three of us have found individual passions while making it a wining match. No one could ever foresee that happening, neither we knew it will ever be this way. Right here - in Girona, in this street, surrounded by familiar smells, known faces and an everlasting curiosity in the air.
Speaking of Girona, being so close to Barcelona not many tourists would come visit it if there was no El Celler de Can Roca. However, after people book their tables they get a chance to get to know Girona too. How do you feel about it?
Joan Roca: It gives us probably the same feeling as it would give to anyone else in our shoes – pride, gratefulness and happiness. Whether it is our food suppliers, fishermen, bakers, butchers or staff are people whom we know very well. The opportunity to showcase all the values of our city and the region, as well as give a chance to so many people to be part of this global affection is something that can only warm our hearts. More than that, whoever comes to our restaurant would probably stay over night in the city and realise – in Girona, you actually eat very well. No matter on the Michelin stars or any other kind of merit, to be able to offer people pleasure and open up one whole new world is simply fantastic.
How much easier does it get once you become famous?
Joan Roca: We have never felt like sacrificing our private lives over profession. Our profession has been a lifestyle that we love very much and without which we couldn’t even imagine being. Of course it gets easier once you become famous. Everyone wants to come and work for you. Guests arrive with their hearts open to see what you do and how you do it. Where I definitely see a benefit of such recognition is that it allows you more freedom and more time to be creative.
In your dishes many techniques are present. How important is the technology to you?
Joan Roca: To my opinion the most important aspect while creating a dish is to preserve the taste. Apart from the aesthetics that also play a role, I believe the flavour is the one to evoke memories and provoke emotions. Of course, to conserve the taste the technique is often very important. Speaking of our kitchen here at El Celler de Can Roca, I am almost certain that is one of the most expensive and best equipped kitchens in the world. Starting from a very traditional wood-fired oven, all the way to various thermostats, dehydrator, distillatory… All of this is crucial to extract and preserve the heart of any dish, as well as present a plate with different textures and cooking methods in one serving. I strongly believe that techniques, whether ancient or modern, are those to give us Chefs plenty of possibilities to express and play along.
Speaking of different techniques and your tendency to always stay away from your comfort zone, could you then define your culinary signature?
Joan Roca: In a few words, it is a local cuisine with global inspiration. It is a permanent dialogue that in its very essence is a traditional Catalan cuisine pervaded by this “barrio”, its history, our memories, learnings, various techniques, our roots. However, at the same time it is very open to the world and we embrace every piece of it during our travels.
How challenging is to please so many international tastes that come to dine at your restaurant?
Jona Roca: It is a very good question. Like everything we have done so far it hasn’t assumed any kind of strategy. The same is with satisfaction we manage to create among our guests without even planning it beforehand. I guess the secret and at the same time our luck lies within our guests. After eleven months of wait, people come here with their hearts wide open. Almost in the sense “take my hand and guide me”. For us this is represents a great responsibility, but also gives us freedom to create and express while following our own gut feeling. I strongly believe whatever in life is forced it creates no good. Same case is with our individual professions and our way of creating.
Being free to create, how do you develop a menu?
Joan Roca: Our menu is always a dialogue, a story, where each dish is a very personal chapter. The menu tells many things, such as where you are. It tells the landscape that surrounds you. It tells where my brothers and I have been recently. It also tells our roots, our memories. It explains our current obsessions, like it is the case with the wood-fired oven. Apart from giving us freedom to create and recreate, it causes an immense amount of happiness as while cooking we are telling an emotional and exciting story of our past and presence.
How do you see the future of gastronomy?
Joan Roca: The future of gastronomy has to be in line with the future of our eco-system. We need to create a mutually sustainable way of progress. The gastronomy till his day has always been following preferences of the society. However, with so much knowledge about ecology and our need to maintain a system able to be indefinitely productive but not destructive, we as Chefs need to adapt our way of doing to this vital necessity. Apart from that, I truly see gastronomy moving into much more intimate direction. Nowadays, guests seek authenticity and honesty. They want to get to know the Chef. They want to feel special and approached with attention and care. All of this hopefully will lead to a more humanized gastronomy aligned with sustainable future by all means.
What advice would you give to young generations of future Chefs?
Joan Roca: Whoever thinks of pursuing gastronomy as his life call, it needs to make them happy. Whatever they do I advise them not to do it for the sake of being rewarded. Do it because you love it. Before becoming a cook, think five times in advance. This profession is not easy at all. It is a profession that requires dedication, patience and constant practice. Carried away by success of Chefs they see around, young people often tend to think the path to achieving that is easy. Absolutely not. But one is certain, love what you do and all the rest will follow as a response to a pure affection.