They say that too many cooks spoil the broth. But at the "world's best" restaurant - El Celler de Can Roca ("El Celler") in Girona, Spain - the opposite has been proven true, that with a trio of brothers running the show, many hands actually make light work.

To wit, 51-year-old eldest brother, Joan Roca, drives the savoury kitchen; 49-year-old Josep Roca steers the beverage programme; while 37-year-old Jordi Roca, who officially joined the duo 11 years after the restaurant's inception, takes charge of the desserts.

It's a recipe that has worked well for the 29-year-old restaurant and its report book speaks for itself - three Michelin stars since 2009 and the top spot on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013 and once again in 2015.

"It's a tripartite collaboration with three of us coming from complementary disciplines," says Joan, who started El Celler with his brother Josep in 1986, after they had both completed their education in the Girona Culinary Arts School.

"Cooking in the kitchen is almost a natural transition for me as I've been helping in my mother's restaurant kitchen after school since I was eight years old," says Joan, who learned to cook from his mother and grandmother while growing up in his family restaurant, Can Roca (about 1967).

"Growing up, I used to help the waiters, joke around and banter with the customers," says Josep, whose attempt at peeling onions in the kitchen literally drove him to tears. "I was also in charge of refilling the wine bottles at Can Roca's basement cellar."

Josep had more luck in the dining room - even though he was left-handed and clumsy, it was never manifested. The plates and trays became a natural extension of his hands. Soon, it became clear to him that he was made for the dining room.

While their roles at El Celler seem to fit them like a glove, the brothers had different ambitions in their salad days.

"I've always loved being a cook but I was also a good student and my teachers wanted me to go to university," says Joan, as he reflects on his childhood hopes of becoming an architect. "Finally, cuisine won but it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made."

"I dreamt of being a professional soccer player when I was a kid," says Josep, who grew up playing football in the backyard of Can Roca's kitchen.

"If the kitchen's metallic door was hit, the loud noise was followed by my mother's scream. It was considered a goal."

By the time they had completed their studies at the culinary school, both brothers were set on opening a restaurant together, which they did in 1986.

"A visit to French restaurant Pic Valence in 1991 made us determined to do something different from our parents' restaurant," Josep says. "We did not want to change what our parents were doing; Can Roca was flourishing as a traditional, family-style restaurant."

When El Celler debuted, Jordi was only eight years old.

"I spent my days at my parents' bar observing old people laughing, chatting and drinking," says the youngest of the trio.

"My mother told me they were retirees and, at that time, I wanted to be a retiree too."

Despite his apparent lack of calling for gastronomy, Jordi followed in his brothers' footsteps, enrolling himself at the same culinary school - "Joan was one of my teachers" - and understudying Joan and Josep in their respective areas in El Celler's dining room and kitchen.

"The turning point for Jordi was when we employed pastry chef Damian Allsop to improve our dessert offerings in the early years of El Celler," Joan explains. "Jordi gradually discovered his calling and found a niche in desserts."

Even with their departmentalised responsibilities, the brothers, it seems, have their work cut out for them. After all, keeping a family business alive is a tough challenge.

"El Celler is the product of a vision shared by the three of us," says Joan, who, together with his brothers and staff, still walks 200 metres to his mother's house for lunch every day. "There is no effort in aligning the vision - we still share the same vision although we have been adding on each other's ideas to grow in the last 30 years."

"We don't proceed if any one of us does not agree," Josep adds. "There are not many of such situations as we work from different but complementary disciplines."

To prove their point, the brothers explain how they worked in unison to create synergy when they introduced a new dish of Oyster Chablis on the menu.

"At El Celler, our cuisine drinks come from diverse sources of inspiration and wine is one of them," Joan explains. "Oyster Chablis is a good example of our triumvirate of disciplines in creating a dish that finishes with pastry techniques, breaking into the savoury concept following the leitmotif of wine aroma."

"Soil distillate is the origin of the concept to extract the minerality of Chablis and terroir of fossilised shellfish, representing the idea of soil and smells," Josep adds. "In this case, truffle, mushrooms, fennel, acacia honey and Granny Smith apple work together to create the aroma parameters of Chablis as an ingredient."

"My part is to create the candies incorporating a Chablis distillation with acacia honey and the appropriate alcoholic touch so as to obtain small buttons of stones that visually evoke the Chablis stones," Jordi says.

"On the table, I finish by serving a very light fennel soup that links all the elements, setting a dish representative of our cuisine," Joan says.

Drawing on this new product development process as an analogy of how the brothers work hand-in-hand, Joan impresses further.

"In the creative process, each of us adds his own vision," Joan says. "The difficult part is that we take a lot of time to make a decision but the good thing is, we make better ones."

 

MILESTONES

1986 Debut of El Celler de Can Roca by Joan and Josep Roca
1995 First Michelin star
1997 Jordi Roca joins El Celler de Can Roca
2002 Two Michelin stars
2009 Three Michelin stars
2013 No 1 on San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list
2015 No 1 on San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list