Roca: my humanistic revolution

Praising Bottura, thoughts on the 50Best, future projects. The confession of the number one chef in the world

Joan Roca in a photo taken yesterday in Sala Aless

Joan Roca in a photo taken yesterday in Sala Alessi at Palazzo Marino, Milan’s Town hall. The chef of Celler de Can Roca in Gerona, awarded last week as best restaurant in the world according to the World's 50Best, held a very successful lesson on landscape cuisine. His landscape is that of Catalunya and Costa Brava, the tourism organisations that organised the event. An excellent chance for us to interview the chef on various interesting topics

Only one week after the renewed title of number one in the world – shared with brothers Josep and Jordi, the other two vertexes in the Catalan triangle at El Celler de Can Roca - Joan Roca landed in Milan. Ha held a ponencia of about an hour under the precious stuccoes of Sala Alessi, at Palazzo Marino. He participated as the illustrious testimonial of Costa Brava, 220 km of Cataluña connecting Barcelona to the French-Spanish border. A territory increasingly popular among Italians: «Since a few months ago», the local authorities explained at the beginning of the meeting, «you’re the most numerous tourists, after the French and the English. A constant growth».

It is thanks to the charm of the civilised and fun Barcelona, of course, but also of Salvador Dalì’s sleepy Cadaques and Figueres. Or of Joan Roca’s Gerona. He came to chant a fabulous synthesis of landscape cuisine at Celler. At the end, there were two minutes – we counted – of roaring applause followed by an interesting one-to-one interview.

Did you expect to reach the top of the world once again?
Not at all. On the night before the ceremony we met with Bottura and Redzepi. Massimo took a selfie and posted on instagram. It was the three of us, on the podium in 2014. ‘One, two, three, here we go’, he wrote. What will happen tomorrow? We wondered. Massimo said it would still be us. He was right. Yet we were totally surprised about being first. Massimo could have easily taken our place, leading an extraordinary restaurant.

The selfie published on Massimo Bottura’s Instagram account on the night before the 50Best ceremony. The same 3 chefs were confirmed at the top, yet in a different order (Joan Roca first from second, Bottura second from third, Redzepi third from first)

The selfie published on Massimo Bottura’s Instagram account on the night before the 50Best ceremony. The same 3 chefs were confirmed at the top, yet in a different order (Joan Roca first from second, Bottura second from third, Redzepi third from first)

Was it easier for Can Roca to be once again first, after 2 years, or for Barcelona to become the European champion after three seasons?
(He laughs heartily). I don’t know. Fore sure it was a fabulous doblete. It is a very important result for Gerona. We are honoured and thankful to all those who voted for us. Yet we must make sure to keep a certain distance: we don’t believe we’re the best in the world. We just need to keep on working.

Do you feel the responsibility of such a title?
Indeed, especially with regards to our territory, since this acknowledgement has an economic impact on all the connected industry, rather than on the restaurant itself: if we continue to be full, it continues to be hard to find a place. Many producers have called to thank us: ‘Your award gives value to our products and sacrifices’. Even Gerona’s hotel managers are very happy for their very good turnover. This satisfaction implies a great responsibility.

In his latest book, Rene Redzepi confesses he felt a certain pressure in the kitchen due to the first place. Did this happen to you too?
For sure it puts a strong pressure on our way of working. Not in terms of creativity in the dish or relationships with the clients, which need to be the best possible in any case. What changes is your relationship with the surroundings, with the sustainability of everything you do. It gives an even greater importance to our role, which is social too.

In 2013 you told us that on the day of the ceremony, 2 million people visited your website in 24 hours. Did this happen again? How do things change from second to first place?
I don’t know how many people visited it this year. And being second, as we’ve been in the past, is marvellous. Yet you must admit that in terms of visibility there’s no comparison between first and second place. The world tends to simplify, people only remember the ‘best restaurant in the world’. Our current society requires fast and easy information. People will remember much more Barcellona’s first place than Juventus’ second. It is unjust yet this is the case.

The Roca brothers back in Gerona after the crowning of the World's 50Best. Celler de Can Roca will turn 30 next year (photo twitter)

The Roca brothers back in Gerona after the crowning of the World's 50Best. Celler de Can Roca will turn 30 next year (photo twitter)

In the top ten, this year, there are 3 new restaurants: Central, Narisawa and Gaggan. And you’re always among the first 3. Does it mean that is hard for young chefs to establish themselves?
There are strange mechanisms, as if those voting in fact wanted to name a restaurant where they’d like to return. People tend to be conservative because we ourselves are magnetic, perhaps. However, I believe the list at the back is as lively as ever: there are many new entries, and as many restaurants leaving.

You’ve recently travelled a lot, taking the Celler brand around the world. It worked.
Perhaps it influenced on the title. Our World Tour was an innovating, transgressive but most of all enriching experience: in each school we visited, we selected the two best students and took them to Gerona to learn for 4 months. People with unique skills but also great workers with very interesting products, far from commercial dynamics. Potatoes from the upland, mezcal, chile de agua peppers from Mexico, cheese from Oaxaca. Fantastic products that have no visibility, something we can give them. This is our small contribution to the development of these small and extremely interesting economies.

Will there be a new World Tour?
Yes, this year we will visit Argentina, Miami, Houston and Istanbul.

How about El Somni, your great absolute oeuvre [details here]?
The project has changed a lot. Initially we wanted to sell this locura [madness] to all the world. Transforming it into a business opportunity, selling a 1,500 euro dinner per person to large companies in 12 cities around the world. Companies ready to pay a lot – because the project was very expensive. We then realised it wasn’t a good idea. We were entering a field that was much different from that of our origins: El Somni was born as a project full of soul, experiment and instinct. Something no one had done before. We gave up on the business to leave this oeuvre to the field it was most suitable to it, that of magic, art and craftsmanship.

By the way, some say that the new chefs will be farmers, breeders, fishermen. What do you think?
I believe that cooking has experienced a significant technological revolution in the last 20 yeas: until recently, everyone was crazy about the latest technique, the newest tool in the kitchen. All this is changing because we’re now experiencing a revolution in products, in the dialogue with small producers, in the chase for the best possible product. Yet I believe that a new movement is about to arrive. I call it the humanistic revolution. It’s the people’s revolution: cooks, waiters and pastry chefs will end up prevailing on techniques and products. People have never been so important because today’s client asks as strongly as ever to feel at home at the restaurant.


Zanattamente buono

Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world