Joan Roca, the Catalan rediscovering Spain

At Gastronomika 2017 the chef from Celler presents an extraordinary (culinary) journey in the Iberian country

12-10-2017

Joan Roca replies to the journalists at the end of his lesson at Gastronomika 2017

«Memory, knowledge, values, respect, diversity, complexity, passion, creativity, research, technique, innovation, care. Life». These are the words that a few hours ago, at Gastronomika 2017, Joan Roca used to sum up “the essence of my cuisine”, the title of the speech the chef from Gerona gave from the stage in San Sebastian. We omitted one more element from this list: journey. The idea of (gastronomic, but not necessarily) journey as a cultural input that becomes culinary: because since their long journey in Turkey [we wrote about it here: The new frontiers of cooking. Right after Gastronomika, two years ago] los hermanos continued to research with their suitcase at hand, gradually visiting 18 towns across the entire planet, studying their products and traditions. And cooking. Istanbul, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Miami, Birmingham, Houston, Dallas, Mexico City, Monterrey…

The Roca brothers always with a suitcase (photo www.bbva.com)

The Roca brothers always with a suitcase (photo www.bbva.com)

A journey around the world in a few thousand dishes. “We’ll never stop exploring. And at the end, we’ll finally return to the starting point and discover it for the first time”: we already mentioned Thomas Eliot speaking of Norbert Niederkofler [see: Il ventennio buono di Niederkofler], but the sentence fits perfectly also for the new frontier of Rocas: which is round the corner. «In the past four years we’ve cooked a bit everywhere – says Joan – But we’re now trying to focus our attention on Spain. It has an incredible gastronomic diversity. We thought we knew it well, but in fact we missed most of it, before realising this. We had to walk in the fields around Cadiz, go on board fishing boats in Santiago de Compostela, study the extraordinary raw materials in Bilbao, in order to realise it» and interpret it from their point of view.

Oyster with Albariño

Oyster with Albariño

So, going back to the title of the lesson at Gastronomika, the essence of the Rocas’s cuisine is full of travelling and knowledge. Galicia suggests a sumptuous oyster with Albariño, a local white wine (they had already thought of a similar maridaje in the past, but with Cava): «We give the same importance to the inspiration coming from the landscape as that from the world of wine. So we add these notes of Albariño from Rías Baixas to the oyster. On top of each one of the five layers we get by cutting the mollusc, there’s an element recalling the aromas of the wine: fennel sauce, black garlic, Granny Smith apple, sea weeds with rice vinegar, distilled earth with some grated truffle, lemon…». This results in a series of different yet converging flavours, which recalls another incredible dish from Celler, Mediterranean Sole matched with five sauces: fennel, bergamot, orange, pine nuts, oil. Unforgettable.

"Andalusian" sardine

"Andalusian" sardine

Andalusia offers another inspiration and enhances a sardine: it is steamed with Jerez, served with bottarga and mashed prunes, paired with a foam made with the yeast from the same wine and a broth made with the chargrilled bones of the sardine.

The Roca brothers’ journey was long, even in Spain: La Coruña, Siviglia, Valencia, Bilbao… And it was in the Basque Country [indeed it is dedicated to Elkano, a gourmet location in Getaria] that they got the inspiration for a dish «that starts from chargrilled turbot, but using a part that is usually discarded: the skin». Joan makes a sort of cannellone enclosing esparteñas (the rare “sea tongues”, stichopus regalis) and anemones, paired with glasswort and two sauces, the first made with the head and bones of the turbot, chargrilled and then vacuum cooked with oil and garlic, the second with anemones.

Joan Roca explains the "Basque cannellone" from the stage of Gastronomika 2017

Joan Roca explains the "Basque cannellone" from the stage of Gastronomika 2017

Anemones are reproduced in the following dish, which brings us to Dénia, Comunidad Valenciana, the home to Quique Dacosta; in Catalonia, instead it brings the rice to squid ink, in the shape of a cream, with a sauce made with squid entrails; it meets sake («There’s a man nearby who makes it, he cultivates rice») in jellied cubes, and then used to add aroma to the squid, garnished with solid extracts made from the Japanese drink and cream of Parmigiano.

Chargrilled lobster with artemisia

Chargrilled lobster with artemisia

From Valladolid comes the idea of serving lamb, baked in a wood oven, in various textures and parts: broth, tongue (with vinegar), brain (with curry), the crispy skin, «a rich dish, pure comfort food». And then the Chargrilled Lobster with artemisia, the herb used to make vermouth; the Rocas distil it themselves and use it to make a classic sauce, with butter, onion, Champignon mushrooms, cream, adding a foam of noisette butter on top.

Then they marinate the egg yolk for 24 hours with salt and sugar: they make it compact so it acquires the texture of cheese, and then cut it like a Tête de Moine. The dessert finally reproduces a vegetable garden with a gel of chartreuse, Granny Smith jam, gel of pine honey, distilled earth, licorice foam, crumble, tarragon, cucumber slush, violet meringues, red fruit sauce… Dish after dish, a sort of Iberian summary.

A Catalan celebrating Spain, these days? It’s funny. Especially if he’s from Gerona, the autonomists’ stronghold. Even separatist premier Carles Puigdemont, who used to be the city’s alcalde, that is to say the mayor, comes from there. On the Sunday of the recent referendum for independence, Celler offered food to the volunteers running the polling station in their neighbourhood, Taialà. Josep Roca personally gave them a casserole with fideuà that was served to the people voting there, reopened after enforcement officers burst in and confiscated all the ballots. The meal served by the Rocas included a main course too and a fruit dessert in the colours of the Catalan flag.

So we ask Joan: what do you think of the Catalan issue? He first shies away («No, I’d rather not»), then he stops and he’s about to answer. But plenty of questions from other journalists overwhelm him. The moment has gone.

A selfie from 2015 with Massimo Bottura [it’s taken from his Instagram account] at the 50Best with René Redzepi and Joan Roca

A selfie from 2015 with Massimo Bottura [it’s taken from his Instagram account] at the 50Best with René Redzepi and Joan Roca

So we try to say it ourselves: the Rocas are beautifully glocal. With the strength of their great culture, they perfectly link their Catalan identity, the connection with Spain and their passion for the world. For them – and they’re not alone – cooking is both difference and sharing.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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