Patrycja Siwiec for FOOD SERVICE MAGAZINE
Joan Roca, head chef at El Celler De Can Roca, about proportions between the creative process and everyday restaurant work, during this year’s Madrid Fusion.
How much time every day do you spend on creative work?
We have a special creative team with three cooks in it. They work in the small space of Roca Lab, which is kind of like the laboratory in Noma. It’s a space dedicated to expanding creativity. Together with my brothers – Jordi and Josep – we devote an hour every day to work with this team.
Now that all eyes are on your restaurant, I imagine you have to be under a lot of pressure. Doesn’t it overwhelm you at times? Do you have moments of doubt when you’re afraid you won’t be able to come up with something new?
Yes, the pressure is big, but if you have a good structure, that is a team that works on improving creativity, you’re much calmer. You know you’re surrounded with people that think similarly to you and are with you. I used to work alone, but now, thanks to my team, I’m much more relaxed.
In one interview René Redzepi said that failure is a part of success.
Definitely. Ours was a long road, we developed slowly, but gradually. We worked non-stop. This taught us, that one has to accept small defeats, because they inspire the search for new solutions and challenges. That’s why it’s important to survive a defeat and be able to learn from it for the future.
Please tell me about your new project you presented at the opening of Madrid Fusión.
The congress is definitely a very important communication platform for us. We have the opportunity to present projects that we’re currently working on. This year we have focused on the project devoted to discovering the world of plants. We focus on what nature within our reach offers us and we wonder how to use it in the kitchen. During our search we discovered varieties that were never used in gastronomy before. It turned out they have a great potential both flavour- and culinary-wise.
I noticed that most successful restaurants in Spain are family businesses.
Yes, it’s very important to me. I work with Jordi and Josep for 28 years. Our brotherly relationship is very important to us, as each one of us has his own range of responsibilities and brings something to the project. Jordi, the youngest of us, is responsible for desserts, he also creates perfumes that smell like our dishes. Josep is the sommelier and me, the oldest one from the three of us, am the chef. Thanks to that we were able to create the marvellous project that is El Celler De Can Roca, which for sure wouldn’t be the same if it took another form. Cooperation with brothers brings a sense of trust and confidence, which is very important in the culinary business, because it allows you to grow.
Are other members of your family engaged in your business?
Yes, our wives work with us. Jordi’s wife takes care of the Rocambolesc ice-cream parlour, Josep’s wife is responsible for catering and mine works in the hotel school. They are all connected to our business, but not directly. They are like satellites and we’re in the centre.
Has your business changed a lot since the restaurant took the first place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking?
It hasn’t changed, but there’s more stress about the reservations.
If I was to make a reservation for two, what’s the closest available date?
Eleven months. It’s crazy, but that’s the result of being at the top of the list The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Does it make you happy?
Of course! It’s great promotion, not only for us and the region, but most of all for our country. You can’t overlook the fact that the restaurant itself benefits from it, because it’s always full thanks to that. There’s much more pressure on us now after the ranking. The restaurants that were leading the ranking are stormed now. It’s particularly difficult for the chef. All the clients that come to the restaurant have very high expectations. It’s a big challenge for me and my brothers, because it demands our constant presence in the restaurant, we have to face those expectations. El Celler de Can Roca takes my whole energy now.
Do you plan to take advantage of this success and open a new branch of the restaurant, like Joel Robuchon or Alain Ducasse did?
It’s impossible. There’s only one El Celler de Can Roca and its place is at my home, in Girona.
How old were you when you started to work in the kitchen?
I started when I was very young, working at my parents’ and grandparents’ restaurant. Our restaurant is 28 years old and I do my job for 30.
What’s your advice to chefs on the beginning of their career?
The most important thing is to find happiness in what you’re doing. You shouldn’t obsess on success, getting the Michelin stars or becoming number one in rankings. The most important thing is to every day feel good in what you’re doing and find pleasure in cooking, because it’s an amazing job and you can see the effects very fast. When you cook, you can look your customer in the eye and ask him if he liked it. When you put your heart into cooking, you receive beautiful emotions in return. And that’s the most important thing in cooking.
Towards which direction will the image of a chef evolve? Once your main job was to cook. Today a cook is a designer, creator, active in the professional environment. Are you fine with it?
We changed a lot as a society, which is connected to great responsibility. We have to know hoe to take on this responsibility and be able to make people eat as healthily as possible. Chefs should do everything for their guests to eat good quality products, which support the immune system. Cuisine can be a beautiful tool for social cohesion. Chefs become more visible and they have to do their best to use it in the most ethical way, not only for their own, egoistical use.
I noticed that sometimes chefs don’t care if the dishes are healthy or natural, the creation on the plate is a reflection of their ego. They want to prove that they’re artists. I’m under the impression that you’re the opposite of such chefs.
I think that a chef is most of all an artisan, not an artist.
On the other side art is very visible in what you’re doing. Daniel Molina, who works with you, mentioned during his last visit to Poland that it matters not only how you design your food, but also how you serve it.
The multidisciplinary dialogue is very important to us. We owe our evolution most of all to the fact that we were able to enter that dialogue. We spoke to artists, designers, scientist, computer graphic designers and botanists about what can be done to develop our kitchen. The visual aspect of the dishes completely changes the way you perceive the food. It’s a very useful tool. It allows you to give more visual aspects and meaning to the food.
What comes first, the product or the recipe? Do you first come up with an idea on how to cook a dish and then there’s the search for products or is it the other way round – you start from the product?
The product is the most important inspiration for me. Other stimuli, such as travel, a book or a movie, are very transversal. You have to observe what’s happening around you, keep your senses open and listen to your own heart. A personal, emotional input is very important and influences everything.
Wine has a very important place in El Celler de Can Roca. Is the label a starting point for it?
My brother Josep is very much engaged in the subject of wines and wine is a very important element of inspiration for our cuisine. It sometimes happens that the flavours of wine inspire the recipes. Wine is a part of a larger unity. Among fruit, herbs and flavours it’s important to find inspiration for new recipes in it.
I hope I’ll find out in 11 months when I’m able to make a reservation.
No… just call me or write me an e-mail. We’ll figure something out.
JOAN ROCA born in 1964 in Girona, Catalonia. Chef at El Celler de Can Roca. He studied at Escola d’Hosteleria de Girona, where he later became a teacher. He’s connected to gastronomy since he was born – he learned to cook from his grandparents and parents. His style is based on using modern, avant-garde techniques on traditional recipes. One of the examples is using ancient ingredients, such as edible gold, silver and copper foils, inspired by the Persian Empire. El Celler de Can Roca works since 1986 and has three Michelin stars. In 2013 it rose to the top of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking. Today it is ran by the three brothers Roca – Joan runs the kitchen, Josep is the sommelier and Jordi – the pastry chef.
The interview was published in the Magazine Food Service (www.foodservice24.pl).