Emotion, Memory, and the Senses in Experiential Cuisine at El Celler de Can Roca

by Francoise Villeneuve
Antoinette Bruno
January 2011

Biographies

Chef Joan Roca
El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Pastry Chef Jordi Roca
El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Sommelier Josep Roca
El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Restaurant Info

El Celler de Can Roca
Can Sunyer, 48
17007 Girona, Spain
+34 972-222-157
www.cellercanroca.com

El Celler de Can Roca Menu

El Celler de Can Roca Menu - Cover El Celler de Can Roca Menu - Inside El Celler de Can Roca Menu - Back Cover

Recipes

Gamba Sobre Arena de Playa y Algas: Charcoal King Prawn with Nori Meringues, Shrimp "Sand," and Squid Ink “Rocks”
Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Onion Soup, Crespià Walnuts and Comté Cheese
Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Lenguado a la Parrilla Sabores Mediterraneos: Sole, Olive Oil, and Mediterranean Flavors: Fennel, Bergamot, Orange, and Green Olives
Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Steak Tartare and Mustard Ice Cream
Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Black Sesame and Cacao Cookie
Pastry Chef Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Bellini Bonbon: Sparkling Rose Wine and Peach Liqueur
Pastry Chef Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Photos

Chef Joan, Jordi, and Josep Roca camera
El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

Video

Tour of El Celler de Can Roca

Fútbol Dessert

Some chefs are too clever for their own good. Wacky techniques for the sake of wacky techniques without any context have little point. But at El Celler de Can Roca it’s all about emotional intelligence. In this case, “creativity as a way to convey feelings,” as Chef Joan Roca puts it. Joan Roca works together with his brothers, Pastry Chef Jordi Roca and Sommelier Josep Roca to produce a cohesive dining experience that is focused on creating what they call a “state of mind,” or emotion, for the diner. Each brother embodies a key role, and even though they will tell you that Joan is in charge of savory, Jordi of pastry, and Josep of wine, the real answer is more complex than that. While they each are master of a discipline, they act and move and think as one, with a unified goal.

The restaurant’s groundbreaking signature dish is a play on “mar y montaña” or “sea and mountain.” A classic take on seafood in Spain is to combine ingredients from the sea and mountains, sort of an Iberian play on surf n’ turf. The brothers distill soil and thicken it with xanthan gum to produce an earth sauce for an oyster on the half-shell. The reaction of the diner is that of astonishment, because the smell of earth is primal and familiar, but it’s in an entirely new context (and it’s dirt, for Pete’s sake). In the context of food, the scent of damp earth evokes a state of mind; the diner thinks of “the feelings of nostalgia and melancholy engendered by the smell of damp earth, memories of rain, moss, nativity scenes,” says Joan.

Joan associates acidity and edible flowers with euphoria, so when Jordi and Joan set out to create a dessert inspired by a landmark goal by famed footballer Lionel Messi, both lemon and mint flowers made their way into a wildly creative football dessert. Presented at the 2010 Gastronomika conference, a bowl of passion fruit cream with mint compote, chocolate, mint and lemon flowers were topped with a flat cover—a net of meringue representing the net of the football goal. The bowl was surrounded by a grass “pitch” with meringue “players” standing on it (“meringue” is actually the nickname for the Madrid team, Barcelona’s biggest rival). When the ball dropped through the meringue net, the meringue collapsed into the bowl, to the soundtrack of the enraptured radio commentary of Messi’s goal (Goal! Goal!) broadcasting on an old transistor radio.

Of course, Jordi and Joan don’t act alone in all this—it is a trio rather than a duet. And as in any significant emotional and cerebral experience, wine is the key. With this in mind, in 2007, the brothers moved the restaurant to a new building that houses a vast temperature-controlled cellar, now home to the restaurant’s behemoth wine selection. There is a wine list—or tome really—for both white and red wines, presented to the table for you to peruse while you nibble on caramelized olives, plucked from a Lilliputian “olive tree,” so that every wine experience is touched by food and vice versa.

More than just technical skill, the brothers join forces in each dining experience. It’s like a carefully orchestrated dance. Each course in the meal is a carefully considered step, each wine pairing and dish acting together in harmony. Because the olfactory experience plays such a huge part in conjuring the images and emotional landscape that the Roca brothers weave with each dish, their aromatic components help complete the picture—without the wine, the overall picture is merely a sketch, lacking color and context. Sometimes the wine even plays an integral part of the dish, as in their “Oyster with Champagne,” which uses xanthan gum to help preserve the bubbles in champagne as it is poured over the oyster. And it’s not just about the food and the wine.

The urban dining room is triangular, set in contrast to the triangular tree-filled atrium in the middle of the room. Glass walls are the only barrier between you and the naturalism of white-barked trees, growing up past the restaurant and into the sky. You almost feel like you’re dining in the middle of a (very chic) forest. It’s not a chaotic, Thomas Hardy-style naturalism, though. Like the cuisine and wine, it’s deliberate and elegant. And it’s just a part of the overall experience, painstakingly crafted by the Roca brothers.