Meet Chef Joan Roca
He’s the chef of one of the world’s best restaurants with the lead rank in 2013 (dropping to second place this year), and of an establishment that also boasts three Michelin stars, plus a waiting list as long as the Sheikh Zayed highway. In Dubai last week to participate in the World Economic Forum and to give a press conference that steers away from announcing a new restaurant in our emirate, but simply to share his culinary wisdom and innovation, Joan Roca is the eldest of three brothers running El Celler de Can Roca in Spain’s north-eastern Catalonian town of Girona.
Joan Roca presented their social-gastronomic project, ‘The Cooking Tour Experience’ sponsored by BBVA bank, where the restaurant, for the first time ever, closed its doors for five weeks this summer, with the team travelling to six cities in the US, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. They cooked 50,000 dishes that paid tribute to each country’s cuisine, for 2,700 people. Furthermore, they trained 7,000 catering students, with 12 selected for stage training at El Celler de Can Roca. Now that’s inspirational.
I managed to grab ten minutes with the humble genius, and a Spanish translator, the manager of Seville’s, where the press conference was held. So voila here’s what he has to say:
1. What do you think of ‘neurogastronomy’, where senses react to food and the brain impacts flavour? We’ve been working on this. We have a creative concept, a culinary opera ‘El Somni – The Dream’. We created this around a table, in a Barcelona art gallery with images, with pictures, to find sensations away from the food itself. Because when we’re looking towards the food, it offers emotions that go back to when we were children. My work is different in the restaurant though because it’s more towards taste and the food itself.
2. How do you become creative? How do you push yourself? It’s very difficult to explain. But we are three brothers [Jordi is the pastry chef and Josep the sommelier]. We have engineers, we have scientists, and the team works together brainstorming to create those new plates. We have created a series of concepts, and it’s from there that we start to develop things. After the first idea, there is another department of creativity, and then we develop the new dish.
3. What do you think are going to be the biggest trends on the restaurant scene next year? It’s about finding authenticity in a small dining experience as opposed to a big luxurious restaurant. The future is when people who have been working in my restaurant, then go out and open their own businesses. A restaurant is a way of life.
4. How do you think cuisine generally is changing? One of the good things that is happening, that is changing, is that with all the people travelling around the world, all the different cultures mix into each other which influences the food we eat.
5. But do you think it’s becoming more creative, or going back to basics? There is a mix; there is a balance between creativity and basics. Creativity is what attracts people to go to the restaurant, while the basics, the dishes of the region are what keeps people happy.
6. As the eldest of the three brothers, how do you think you’ve influenced them? I don’t think I’ve influenced them. All three of us influence each other. I don’t talk in the first person; every time I talk about our cooking, I say “us”.
7. And one final, fun question, what do you eat at home? Something fun, quick and with the whole family.
So who’s been lucky enough to dine at El Celler de Can Roca? How do you feel about neurogastronomy – do you think it enhances or detracts from the food itself?