Imagination, irreverence, childhood memories and an astounding aesthetic appreciation have resulted in the youngest of the Roca brothers earning increasing recognition in the world of gastronomy. The most recent proof of this is his inclusion in the San Pellegrino list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, which in 2014 has awarded the prize for the world’s Best Pastry Chef to Jordi Roca. But long before receiving this accolade, many have already surrendered to the irresistable combination of gastronomic delight and aesthetic and conceptual playfullness. For this reason, we reproduce two articles previously published in So Good.. that explain both his approach to introducing aspects related to the aesthetics and design of his creations and the career path that has taken this pastry chef to the top of the international tree over the past 14 years.
Creativity beyond a dish
(so good.. magazine #9 – 2013 january)
El Celler de Can Roca keeps an unceasing creative activity, which is the result of joining three talents – the Roca brothers – in a symbiosis out of which Joan’s dishes, Jordi’s desserts and Josep’s pairings and services are to benefit. But if out of this team work, with the symbiosis and complicity that the fact of sharing the same genes and blood also provides, the purely gastronomic and gourmand excellence is to benefit, there is another work which is connected to other extra-gastronomic aspects and where El Celler de Can Roca sets a trend again, a trend which deserves admiration and mimesis. Jordi Roca is behind some good examples which illustrate these aspects, not strictly gastronomic but equally creative and innovative. Let’s see some recent samples of this singular multidiscipline ingenuity.
The take-away dessert
The dairy dessert, based on goat’s cottage cheese, goat’s dulce de leche and goat’s yogurt, guava’s gelée and sugar candy, is one the most recent protagonists in the desserts menu at El Celler de Can Roca. So much so that at Rocambolesc, the ice cream parlor opened by the youngest Roca and about which we refer to below, it is possible to taste a quite accurate copy of the dessert of the restaurant but in a peculiar format: in a bag. Inside this beautifully-conceived bag each of the components are reproduced, vacuum-packed, in a piping bag ready to be trimmed so that the contents can be piped on one of the tasty ice cream tubs. This way, one can enjoy a unique, inimitable creation at home as though they were in the restaurant. This initiative, as we said, has been carefully conceived regarding its attractive packaging and illustrations. For the moment, only The dairy dessert is available, although Jordi Roca has long been working on another mythical dessert from the restaurant – baked apple in his mother’s style.
An ice cream parlor with three-star flavors
Rocambolesc opened last year’s April with an extraordinary response from the public which surprised everybody. From the very beginning, the customers crowded together outside the store full of curiosity for the original proposal. Funnily enough, since it opened most its customers have been local people, but soon the number of visitors from Barcelona and further places interested in tasting Jordi Roca’s ice creams has increased.
The ice cream parlor is located in a small building in downtown Girona, exclusively devoted to the sale of take-away and ready-to-eat ice creams. Its fairy tale esthetics is combined with other elements inspired by the 60s and 70s, like all the information written on the glass which explains what’s new in the store. The gadgets, tubes and machinery hands on the rear wall leave both children and grown-ups stunned. The showcase, which resembles a dessert cart, identifies that initial inspiration on street vendors, and shows the different pieces and ingredients which distinguish each of the flavors in the offer.
It is six the number of flavors, displayed in the shape of soft ice cream, and which are also accompanied by some ‘star elements’ inspired by the desserts menu of the restaurant run by the Roca brothers. There are freeze-dried fruits, fresh fruits, all sorts of cookies and sponges, as well as some originals products like the classic cotton candy or aromatized sugars.
Rocambolesc intends to be an entrance to the world of the Rocas without leaving aside the popular nature which ice cream parlors have always had. This is why it includes flavors like vanilla, inspired by the vanilla enriched dessert from El Celler, but with some variations which make it more understandable to the general public. Or chocolate, an ideal bonbon for the chocolate lovers which contains sugared cocoa beans, cocoa cookie and even chocolate pop rocks. Closing the offer, there are two fruit sorbets which vary according to the season. They started with watermelon and orange, but lately they have also worked with apricot, cherry and mandarin.
A fantasy dessert cart
The gastronomic experience cannot be detached from the environment where it is produced, and for this reason Jordi Roca thought of reviving the glamour of the classic dessert cart, but giving it a much more innovative and personal concept. Resulting from the team work alongside the designer Andreu Carulla, this ‘vehicle’ is born, in the style of Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and which contains all sorts of mechanisms so as to turn the serving of each dessert into a real spectacle in front of the customer.
The bike of Rocambolesc
Nothing at the ice cream parlor Rocambolesc is conventional. Besides the fact that the place is decorated like a fairy tale, in it one can find exceptional ice creams inspired by signature desserts and other complementary products with the particularity of the take-away dessert. As it weren’t enough, the ice cream store is strongly concerned about the environment and tries hard to carry out all the transport logistics from the restaurant to the point of sale by bicycle, avoiding CO2 emissions. A praiseworthy commitment by itself, which goes beyond a mere attitude as the bicycle has been designed with the same spirit as the rest of the store and becomes another attractive element in it.
Design really works
All these works show the broad and varied ways to be walked along by an avant-garde restaurant eager to evolve. A great chef’s signature is often reproduced too easily in other more informal restaurants, identified with the main restaurant to a different extent. But in El Celler de Can Roca, Jordi has proved that there are other pioneering and stimulating possibilities conceived to diversify the activity which also have a positive effect on the main restaurant.
Another element which stands out of these works is the external collaboration of relevant figures of the world of design, decoration or art. At El Celler de Can Roca, they have placed themselves in the hands of the interior designer Sandra Tarruella and the designer Andreu Carulla on several occasions to develop each of these works with the best of guaranties. The results are obvious – it is entirely worth the unity of creative geniuses in search of a result which reaches an artistic value besides a strictly gastronomic one.
Chronology of a unique dessert menu
(so good.. magazine #7 – 2012 january)
A blackboard not for decoration
On the blackboard located in the corridor between the kitchen and the entrance hall of ‘El Celler de Can Roca’, the Roca brothers write every kind of ideas. A big number of them simply disappear, but some remain and become the germ of the dishes that will result in a new menu for the restaurant. These are ideas which any of the Roca brothers writes indistinctively and which can be useful for an appetizer, a starter, a dessert or any other dish.
On the other side of the blackboard, Jordi Roca shows us the ‘creative branches’, which refer to a number of values that print the conception of all the dishes in the restaurant in a transversal way. We can read some of these values on the board: poetry, especially linked to the emulation of nature and moods, and which is clearly demonstrated in the ‘Olive tree Bonsai’ which welcomes the customers at the beginning of the menu. Courage, essential “if you want to feed earth to your customers”, as Jordi says; that is the case of the mythical ‘oyster with distilled earth’, although in our memory it is more of a piece of moist forest which invades your mouth accompanied by an oyster, altogether resulting in an incredible and essentialist Catalan ‘mar i muntanya’ (sea and mountain). The break with inflexibility is expressed in the dish ‘Anarkia’, whose countless elements, clearly contrasted with each other, turns it into a complex-free declaration of creative freedom. Another ‘creative branch’ is to stop to think where things come from and why, embodied in the artichoke flower on the blackboard, and clearly represented during our conversation with Jordi in the dessert ‘Vainilla’, an interesting interpretation of all the elements emerging in a vanilla pod tasting.
Or the sense of humor, a value which not only does rule the relationships among the brothers but which is clearly reflected on one of Jordi’s latest surprising desserts –‘Messi’s Goal!’–, which we will see in detail further on.
All the brothers, either as a team or separately, contribute to this creative rondo where inspiration strokes and the sensitivity with which the world in general and gastronomy in particular are watched have a lot to say. These values are parallel to the menu; we could almost say that they are present in all the dishes, beyond the fact that each of these ‘creative branches’ reach their peak in a particular creation.
Suddenly one day, Jordi embarked upon a creative adventure and presented ‘Trip to Havana’ to his brothers, a dish containing rum, lime, mint and other typical Caribbean ingredients served in an attractive cup. “I was pretty young –Jordi remembers–, I wanted to create something funny but had no reference point. Eventually, it turned out to fit perfectly what my brother Joan was doing, and that gave me enough courage to move on.”
The value of Courage is essential, especially “if you want to feed earth to your customers”, as Jordi says. That is the case of the mythical ‘oyster with distilled earth’
Desserts with smoke, an incendiary idea
“It was a great idea to incorporate smoke to a dish –Jordi explains-, nowadays it is easy to find smoke in an avant-garde restaurant dish, but it was us who first proposed it.” Then he explains to us how he learned, from the great ice cream artisan Angelo Corvitto, the concept of overrun, the amount of air an ice cream mix contains, and the importance of working in a clean environment to prevent the ice cream mixture from acquiring undesired smells. Then the ‘incendiary’ idea came up: what if we inserted some smoke into the ice cream machine while working? The result was simply amazing – the dairy ice cream incorporated the flavor of a cigar completely. This is how ‘Partagás Series D no. 4’ was born.
After this creation, and after starting to work with blown caramel in order to copy shapes of nature such as apple, beet or apricot, Jordi found the way to make some extremely thin and fragile caramel bells, so fragile that they could not hold any liquid inside, but smoke was not a problem. With the help of tools like air pumps, he managed to insert different aromatic smokes that could become part of a dish – such is the case of ‘Cep Ice Cream’.
Year 2002 – present
Perfumes, different disciplines, same spirit
The real revolution regarding restaurant desserts came with all the range of products based on famous perfumes.
However, the real revolution regarding restaurant desserts came with all the range of products based on famous perfumes. Since that ‘Calvin Klein’s Eternity’ was made, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge, and several other dishes have been developed, nearly twenty altogether, each one based on a different perfume. First, it was a particular interest on the perfume industry and its creative criteria when it came to creating a new fragrance; then a close collaboration with Josep Roca’s talent so as to extract the aromatic line out of any product. “You notice the transversality of a lot of things –Jordi analyzes–, you find yourself speaking the same language but doing very different things, like cuisine, perfume making, artisanal works, woodworks, and so son.”
We have recently witnessed the closing of a cycle with a dessert, the Lemon Water (check the recipe out), conceived by Jordi Roca, which was eventually turned into a perfume with the hallmark of ‘El Celler’ –Lemon Cloud–, and put up for sale at the restaurant itself.
Orange, green… gastronomic chromotherapies
Soon after perfumes invaded the menu at El Celler de Can Roca in the shape of desserts, Jordi Roca started to explore chromatism, that is, the possibility of working with single-colored ingredients in the same dish. Not only is a color linked to different moods due to its visual effect, but also due to the range of flavors which usually match that color scheme. Once again, the work of the three brothers allowed flavors, aromas and esthetics to meet in a discourse closely related to moods and emotions, something which is repeated in the restaurant menu and in the role wines play in countless occasions.
Messi’s goal, a stimulating journalistic trap
A journalist reveals a relaxed chat with Jordi Roca in which they wondered what a goal of Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona’s forward, would taste of. The ‘indiscretion’ led to a binding challenge. Jordi got down to work then and a funny dish came out of it. When served, the waiter activates an audio device which reproduces one of the Argentinean footballer’s most famous goals. During the telling, the waiter invites the customers to taste the marshmallows which emulate the defense in the plate and to reach the net in order to enjoy the dessert once the goal has been scored, that is, the passion fruit cream, dulce de leche, lime effervescent rocks, and other fizzy flavors that the Roca brothers have identified with joy and happiness accompanying that moment in the match. “It is a very enjoyable moment which comes after following a very rigorous menu –Jordi Roca explains–, but it is not just enjoyable; the flavor work has been done conscientiously and I think that, from the point of view of taste, the dessert is really good.”