HOW THE ROCAS ROLL The last three generations of my family have had their own restaurants. My brothers and I opened El Celler de Can Roca 30 years ago; our parents have Can Roca (across the road, in the Girona suburb of Taialà), where they’ve been working for the past 50 years; and our grandparents had a restaurant in La Garrocha, a mountain village 25km from Girona. The only time we all eat together is Christmas, when my mother and I cook. It’s the most stressful day of the year for me, not because it’s complicated to cook for my family, but because I’m used to having 40 cooks helping me. So the day I have to do everything myself, I’m a disaster.
When we’re both in the kitchen, my mother’s in charge. She does fantastic arroces caldosos – a speciality in Girona. It’s a rice dish but with broth, not dry like paella. She’s the best cook in the world. In fact, every day, my two brothers, Jordi and Josep, and myself, along with our team of 65 people working at El Celler de Can Roca, cross the road at midday and eat at my parents’ restaurant. It helps us stay connected to our roots, and is a very healthy way to keep us grounded.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME You have to take it with a pinch of salt when they say you’re the best restaurant in the world, because you know that doesn’t really exist. It’s subjective and, for many, the best restaurant in the world is home.
When I was 10 years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a chef, and said, “Get me a chef’s jacket.” They didn’t come in such a small size, so she had to get one made for me. I still keep it. After school I’d help cook and wait on tables. In those days my parents’ restaurant would be open all year, so as children we’d play there. It was normal. We fell in love with the restaurant business as we saw how happy our parents – and their guests – were.
STARS IN THEIR EYES At that time, there were only two cooking schools in Spain, and one of them happened to be near our house in Girona, so
I began to study catering. I gathered everything I learned there, and from my mother, and at the age of 22 I opened El Celler with my brother Josep. It was a risk, but we were young, reckless and full of hope. We wanted to do something different: we weren’t sure exactly what, but we knew we wanted to have fun with our cooking. Our parents let us use a small house next to their restaurant, probably thinking, “They’ll be back!”
Ours is a very modern style of cuisine, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have always been more traditional. But we started out with much more simple food. At first, people from Girona came, then people from around Spain, then the French. In 1995, they gave us our first Michelin star. That’s when the word spread. The second star came in 2002 and, in 2009, when we got three stars, everything exploded and suddenly we were on the global gastronomical lists. For seven years now we’ve been in the top five of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The first time we hit number one, we got home and our mother said, “Well, now you know: the only way is down!”
THE BROTHERHOOD I can’t deny there’s a certain amount of pressure – it’s like being a student waiting for your annual exam results – but that there’s three of us to share it helps. We get on very well. We are all very different, in both character and skills: Jordi is our pastry chef and Josep is in charge of the wines. We share a special connection, which makes communication very easy. A lot of the time we don’t even need to talk, all it takes is a look to know what the other means.
Jordi is a lot younger. He was only seven when we opened our restaurant, and at first he wasn’t at all convinced about working with us. If he was in the kitchen, I’d boss him around; if he was in the dining area, Josep would. What a bore, no? But then he discovered the world of pastry making. He has a great gift for creativity, and passion.
BUSMAN’S HOLIDAY Our humble origins and the fact that we were all born, bred and triumphed in this same, small, working-class neighbourhood has allowed us perspective, and a sense of comfort. Every now and then we like to break that sense of comfort by doing a tour, like the one that will bring us to Hong Kong in August.
We pack up the whole team and take them to cook in another country, so we have to start from scratch, learn and remember just how little we really know.
COOKING WITH CONSCIENCE Today, celebrity chefs are adding another social dimension to the food industry, which is good in that it excites young people.
But it also brings great responsibility, as chefs can influence the way people eat, the way people look after their health and use the planet’s limited resources. My cooking respects tradition and takes inspiration from it. We work with small, local producers, and also with science. We have a house with a garden just in front of the restaurant, which we call La Masia (the farmhouse) and use for investigation and training. It’s a place that provokes multidisciplinary dialogues. For example, we bring to the same table an industrial engineer, a botanist, a perfumer, an artist, a theatrical set designer, scientists and a chef. It’s tremendous fun, and a flood of new, interesting ideas emerges.
LIVING THE DREAM I try to celebrate the everyday victories, not the big ones. We’ve worked many years to have this dream restaurant. My goal now is to savour the present for as long as we can stretch it, with my parents, who are now in their 80s, and who could have retired 20 years ago if they wanted, but who continue because they are happy doing what they do. And to maintain this magic little microcosm we’ve created in our neighbourhood, with all of us there, our restaurants and our home.