Born to culinary parents, Joan Roca’s earliest memories of cooking are with his mother in his family’s kitchen. She wasn’t just cooking for Joan, but for customers in their typical country restaurant that served traditional Catalan cuisine. It is no surprise, then, that all three Roca brothers ended up in the restaurant business.
After going to culinary school in Girona, Joan, along with his two brothers, opened up thier own restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, right next door his parents’ El Restaurant de Can Roca. In the beginning the restaurant was housed in a tight, ill-suited space. Joan could barely turn around in the kitchen, and the décor was modest and simple. Eventually the kitchen was remodeled to suit the evolving cuisine, which had outgrown its plain country roots.
The three brothers each have their own area of expertise, with Joan overseeing the cuisine, Josep selecting the wines and Jordi working with pastry. The passion of these three brothers, along with their dedication to impeccable and knowledgeable service, set El Celler de Can Roca apart from other restaurants in the area, eventually winning it two Michelin stars.
Joan Roca reveres tradition but is not encumbered by it in his cooking. His dishes succeed because of his careful attention to balance, creating plates that contain sweet, savory, sour and salty notes, all in harmony. He’s also not afraid to embrace modern technology, using sous vide to create some of his signature dishes, such as Iberian suckling pig.
Joan Roca and his brothers also see the dining experience as being intimately tied to the senses, not just in taste but in sight, sound, touch and smell. Dishes are plated to perfection, such as his beet salad with blueberries, which echoes a garden landscape and is breathtaking in its color and simplicity. The team at El Celler de Can Roca also takes wine pairings seriously. Josep is the sommelier, with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of wines from around the globe. Many of the dishes were created as a collaboration between the two brothers, where Josep broke down the notes in a wine and Joan worked to create a dish that would complement it. Desserts also take on a modern twist, with some using the deconstruction of perfumes as their foundation. Jordi breaks down the floral notes, in such famous scents as those of Carolina Herrera, and incorporates them all into different aspects of a single dish, recreating the perfume.
Expansion was inevitable, but Joan and his brothers have taken their time in order to maintain artistic control. Their second restaurant, Moo, is located in Hotel Omm in Barcelona and is decidedly different from its Girona counterpart. It is connected to the main lobby and has a Japanese vibe, with dark wood accents and sleek seating. A new menu was created to complement the new space, and Joan makes the trip from nearby Girona often to oversee the kitchen and hand-picked staff.
Joan Roca i Fontané is a chef of the restaurant El Celler de Can Roca. In 2013 & 2015, it was named the best restaurant in the world by the Restaurant Magazine. It was ranked second by the same magazine in 2011, 2012 & 2014. – Wikipedia
I met Joan Roca in Cancun while I was working for the Palace Resorts. He was hosting a dinner for 180 guests over 2 nights. His food was amazing, incorporating molecular gastronomy in the dishes with beautiful presentation. He is so down to earth it was a pleasure spending time with him.
The Chef’s Connection: Did you go to culinary school? If so, where?
Joan Roca: I studied in the culinary school of Girona, when people started to become very interested in this career of becoming a chef, there were two schools in Spain at the time. I was also a professor at the school for 20 years.
TCC: What restaurants have you worked at?
JR: When I opened up my first restaurant, at the time my only job was working in the restaurant my parents owned. I also had the opportunity to do a few temporary gigs at a few places. I was in Bonaz in Borgona, in France I was in Racolica en Fabas, I was in Boujee when the chef there was first starting out. I was also in La Gabia in Mexico with Monica Patina in 1991.
TCC: What was your first job in food?
JR: Those places I mentioned were my first contacts within the sector.
TCC: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JR: When I was a kid I used to play in the kitchen. We grew up in a bar/restaurant environment and the kitchen was a place that was normal for me. I was there to play, learn and cook. I told my mom when I was 10 that I wanted to be a chef. She made me create a costume for chefs because there weren’t ones for kids – back then they didn’t exist, now kids have this opportunity to dress up as chefs. So yes, since I was a kid it was something that was very clear to me that I wanted to do!
TCC: What’s your favorite thing about being a chef?
The best thing about being a chef is doing something that I love to do and at the same time do something that others will enjoy. It’s a way to be happy while creating happiness for others. It’s the beautiful thing about this job – you get to do anything and be creative.
TCC: Did you have an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a chef?
JR: There were a ton of moments – I kinda knew what I wanted to do, but of course when you are young you like to think of other things. At one moment I wanted to be an architect. But when I first started training in culinary school I was able to see a world outside of the world I was used to in the kitchen. Also, when I was at a Michellelin star restaurant was another moment when I was able to see a completely different side of the industry that I thought was amazing.
I still get “aha” moments when it comes to creating dishes or coming up with ideas for new restaurants.
TCC: Best advice you ever got?
JR: My siblings and I have adopted a ton of great values and advice from my parents that have to do with generosity, hospitality, hard work, etc. This is something that our family has instilled in us from the beginning.
TCC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
JR: Strange food is what isn’t common in your culture. The first time I tried ants, snails, mushrooms – but you realize that they have a gastronomic benefit and you add it into your taste archives.
TCC: What’s your favorite ingredient?
JR: I love Olive Oil. I use it all the time. Cataluna has the best Olive Oil right now. But it also depends on the season.
TCC: What ingredient turns you off the most?
JR: There isn’t an ingredient that I don’t like. If there is anything that is in a different culture I will try it. Doesn’t mean I will cook with it, but I will try it.
TCC: What’s your favorite tool in the kitchen?
JR: The most important are knives. I care for them, I sharpen them. Its so important.
TCC: What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not cooking?
JR: I love to be with my kids as much as I can. I now see them older, and they do their own thing. My daughter is 14, shes not at the point where she is doing her own thing. My kids and I travel together, my daughter and I go to the market together.
TCC: What would you like to do before you get too old to do it?
JR: I want to do so many things. But I don’t want to leave anything out that I won’t do. Right now, I’ve been very lucky with what I have been given. Maybe now, extend the present.
TCC: Tell us a deep dark secret (doesn’t have to be food related).
JR: I don’t know. Everyone knows everything about me. I’m an open book and pretty transparent.
TCC: How do you deal with the stress?
JR: I try to control it. It’s not easy. The big key, is that I have an awesome group of people I work with that makes it fantastic.
TCC: Tell us a funny story from the kitchen
JR: Thank God everyone I work with has a great sense of humor and we have a good time all the time. Our Grandmother had the BEST sense of humor and was marvelous and continuously played in the kitchen. We would play around throwing flour at each other and sword fighting with bread. She was so tiny and we would put her in box, it was a ton of fun! It was an important muse and why I got involved with cooking – she played and loved being in the kitchen.
TCC: Who would you like to cook for?
JR: I would love to cook for Bruce Springsteen. I love his concerts and I became a huge fan because my wife Ana is obsessed with his music.
TCC: What was the hardest thing for you to learn? Or is there something you just can’t get right?
JR: The hardest thing I learning to work with people and keeping your team happy. It’s a science when you are a manager.
TCC: How did becoming a chef change your life? Your direction.
JR: My life has changed because we never thought this would happen. The changes have allowed for our jobs to have a different dimension and have allowed us to be successful. You have to compromise with excellence and success.
TCC: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
JR: One night when all the people from the neighborhood came to applaud us because we got the 3rd Michelin star in November 2009. Even people that have never come to our location, but have watched us grow and see how we are – they realized we are important in the neighborhood.
TCC: Please give us a cooking tip that people might not know like “adding a little bit of oil to butter so it doesn’t burn.”
JR: Not sure, there are so many. The most important ingredient when cooking is love. I’m sure it’s a cliché but it actually works and people will taste the love in the food.