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Elite Traveler Speaks to Joan Roca

By Zahra Al-Kateb

by Zahra Al-Kateb

Widely recognized as one of the best restaurants in the world, El Celler de Can Roca was originally founded by three brothers – Joan, Josep and Jordi. Together, they have developed what was initially a small Catalonian restaurant located beside their parents’ house into a world-renowned, three-Michelin-starred establishment.

We caught up with Joan Roca who told us his fine dining philosophy, where his inspiration comes from and what it means to be voted for by the readers of Elite Traveler.

Congratulations on coming second in the Elite Traveler Top 100 Restaurants. Our list is voted for by our jetsetting readers rather than food critics or industry insiders. How does it feel to be recognized by the public in this way?

Well, it’s the highest recognition a restaurant may receive. We ultimately cook to awake senses and emotions. All our work, research and creativity point to their (the diners’) experience.

Obviously you learnt the art of cooking from your parents. But how did your interest in fine dining develop?

It’s been a natural evolution, the story of simplistic cooking that has been modified according to a dialogue with science and small suppliers. Our dream in the beginning was to create a different place, a limitless cuisine to thrill our visitors, offer them an emotional journey, and also explore the possibilities of the restaurant experience.

What has been the most important moment in your career so far?

We’ve had several good moments throughout all these years, and I’d like to think that the most important one is still to come. I’ve been cooking only for35 years, there’s still much more to do!

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Your menu includes so many incredible and highly imaginative dishes. Where do you get your inspiration? Does it come from any unexpected sources?

Firstly, it is a three-way collaboration, a synthesis of our 3 disciplines: Josep is the liquid mind, the world of wine, Jordi is the sweet mind and I’m the salt. Each of us provides his own vision for a new dish or a new project.

It is ultimately the sum of worlds coming together.  A fluid dialogue with the common thread of passion, fun and rigor.

What is your personal favorite dish on the menu at the moment and why?

Maybe the ‘Vegetable Stock’ dish, as it reflects our philosophy on nature cycles and produce. We adapt it to different seasonal versions according to the available produce. It’s a very alive dish, changing its presentation as nature changes its larder. It’s also a sous vide low temperature consommé, technically improved by cooking at nature’s rhythm.

Have you devised any new dishes recently you can tell us about?

We are working on alcoholic and free alcohol extractions, reviving the ancient craft of the alchemist.

What is your fundamental philosophy on food and fine dining?

It seems that people now prefer less formal places, with reasonable prices. They are avoiding superfluous luxuries, and searching instead for authenticity, generosity, hospitality and creativity. Here at El Celler, we feel close to the search for flavor, the ‘reason why’ behind ingredients, sensitive to the depletion of the Earth’s resources. And to the messages we can spread into society from the loudspeaker the kitchen has become.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I feel free in my kitchen; luckily I share it with my family everyday. When I’m not there, I enjoy biking with my little daughter Marina, or playing tennis with my son Marc, but now it’s harder to win against him.

What’s next for you and your brothers?

We have just launched a RocaLabs space in an old typical Catalan farmhouse in front of our La Masia restaurant. It is a talent development and research center. We are working on projects in fields including sensory science and the world of distillations.

We will also keep on moving our restaurant and all our team around the world for five weeks this summer in the next world tour of El Celler de Can Roca: whereever the team is, the restaurant is.

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