We catch up with El Celler de Can Roca maestro, Chef Joan Roca

by Zoe Bowker

Celebrating the 15th anniversary of The World’s50 Best Restaurants in Barcelona, we caught up local superstar Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca. A veteran of the number one spot on more than one occasion, Joan shares with us some insight as to what makes their culinary dynasty tick.

How did reaching number one on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants change your life?

It has changed a lot after this affirmation. It has meant a lot of changes for the restaurant, but most of all, changes for the economic environment for the restaurant and the restaurants close to us. It has had a very positive impact on the area, and also the small suppliers of our region. They can realize that their products have an impact, are internationally known because of the restaurant, and then gain more value, are more appreciated.

Is it as hard to get a booking at your parents’ restaurant as your own and what is your favorite dish on the menu?

No, it is not hard. You can even go without a reservation, they will fit you in. My favorite is Arroz la Casserola, a rice dish.

You work with your brothers in a high pressure environment – do you have advice when it comes to making a family business a success?

The most important thing is there must be a lot of generosity, the willingness and ability to share, and a lot of commitment from all the members so all the members are giving their best. This is what we have been lucky enough to have. We’ve worked together for 30 years now.

Where do you find creative inspiration for your dishes?

In the creative process, the three of us work together, everyone of us represents a discipline – the salt of Joan, the sweet of Jordi and the liquid of Josep. But little by little we have involved more people in this triangular structure. We have lots of key points from memories, traditions, landscape…the world of wine and the aromas of wine are our starting point many times, our trips are also the starting point of many ideas and dishes, the old books, these are some of the starting points for our ideas. celler 3 How long does it take to take a new dish from concept to table?

It can be sometimes one month, sometimes one year, depending on the complexity of the dish. Sometimes we need to involve an industrial designer or craftsman to make a new plate…

What’s your favorite ingredient to work with?

Palamós Prawns, a very special product of our region.

Is the terroir of the region important to El Celler de Can Roca?

80% of the products that are used in our cuisine come from within a 50km radius of the restaurant. We are lucky enough to be just 35km from the sea and 50km away from an area with 2000m elevation. So we discovered we can find lots of different small microclimates and products, so the region is very impressive for sourcing.

roca brothers suitcase bbva tour What do you take from your yearly world tour?

From the trips we take lots of things, but most of all we take the techniques and different ways of cookings that we take to the kitchen. We also collect seeds of the products we like around the world and grown them in our own garden.

What’s your favourite seed that you’ve brought back with you?

The Mexican chilis!

What new techniques are inspiring you?

Now we are working on distillations at very low temperatures to capture volatile aroma. But by contrast, the latest incorporation that we brought to our cuisine, is an ancient oven – a clay oven with a wood fire.

You created a multi sensory experience with El Somni – how important is it to incorporate multiple senses in the dining experience?

El Somni was an experiment, was a performance…it was to see what was going on between the senses and the eating phenomenon. We have a lot of information that we are still working with, we are still investigating these connections with eating. Now we realize the way you explain a dish has a direct impact on the way you digest it. It’s something that has been proven lately. Now we are working with scientists to reach more conculsions, we are experimenting with hospital research. The idea is to share all this knowledge and these new results…we don’t want to keep them just for us.

What is next for gastronomy?

There are many different and very clear paths and lines to follow already, you can see them. Science is going to serve people and create conscience. The more sustainable the gastronomy, or the dish, the better for mankind. If it is healthy, it’s even better, the more authentic and connected to its roots, the better. These will be the values of future gastronomy.

What would you like the legacy of El Celler de Can Roca to be?

That it’s totally possible to make dreams come true. (That you can) Start dreaming one day, in a small restaurant in a suburb of Girona, that you can achieve excellence without denying your roots and the values of your family.

Of all the dishes you’ve created, which is your favorite?

When we made the oyster with distilled soil. It was the sea and the land coming together. Which is a very (typical) concept of Catalan cuisine, this coming together of the land and the sea. Also it was the first implementation of a new technique – capturing the volatile aroma, in this case the damp air, and having it as a distillation in the dish. It was implemented for the first time (in this dish), and that’s why it’s special – the scientific technique, and the concept, linked to the traditions of Catalan cuisine.

For more on El Celler de Can Roca, or to try and snag an elusive table (bookings open 11 months in advance) click here.

For more on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants click here, or read our reviews of top ranked restaurants here.

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