Chef Joan Roca on

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.

   Published: June 2006