ROCA AND ROLL
Chef Joan Roca of the famous Catalan restaurant El Celler de Can Roca speaks to Charmaine Mok ahead of his visit to Hong Kong this month
eading the charge at El Celler de Can Roca—twice voted the world’s best by Restaurant magazine—is the softly spoken Joan Roca, the eldest of three brothers. As head chef, Joan has been a powerful influence not only in Spanish circles but also on the international culinary scene. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of the brothers’ extraordinary restaurant in the working-class suburb of Taialà-germans Sàbat in Girona, northeast of Barcelona—just minutes away from Can Roca, the bar-restaurant established by their parents in 1967. Eager to learn more about the culinary world and to support the next generation of chefs, the brothers decided in 2013 to start a series of global tours with Spanish bank BBVA. These trips enable them to explore other regions’ gastronomy and to seek talented young chefs for internships at their restaurant. The tours also give the Rocas the opportunity to share the philosophy and cooking of El Celler. This year, Joan and Jordi (the youngest brother and the restaurant’s pastry chef ) are visiting Hong Kong from August 8 to 13. They will host an exclusive masterclass with Hong Kong Tatler and deliver a series of private, invitation-only dinners inspired by local ingredients before moving on to Phoenix and San Francisco in the US and Santiago, Chile. Why is Hong Kong the only Asian stop on your tour? We thought about visiting other leading culinary centres—tokyo, Bangkok, Manila—but decided on Hong Kong because it has this incredible synthesis of both traditional Chinese and international cuisines. It’s quite literally the centre of East Asia.
How might you interpret our cuisine for the menu at the El Celler dinner this month? I’ve been checking out the local markets— the butchers, the fishmongers—and the freshness of the produce is incredible. The dim sum is also magnificent, of course. Our challenge during our time in Hong Kong will be paying tribute to these local ingredients. Our aim is to use mostly what we can find in each city and not rely on imported produce.
Where should we look for the next culinary movement? In the past, we’ve had the French influencing cuisine, then it was the gastronomic revolution led by the Spanish in the ’90s. You’ve also seen the culture of the Nordic kitchen in recent years. As for the next big thing? It could be anywhere—it could be here, in Hong Kong, or elsewhere in China. We’re living globally now.
How has the significance of the chef evolved in the past 30 years? Chefs are realising that we can influence things for the better. We have to be responsible, and now I’m very conscious that the industry has to be more conscious about what people are eating, and to show more respect for the planet. We should be encouraging people to eat more responsibly and sustainably.
What would be your perfect day? One where I can take my daughter to school, then take a bike ride 30 minutes into the old city of Girona. And then I’d spend the rest of the day in the restaurant. I’d have dinner at my parents’ bar across the road, then go back to the restaurant.
Who would you like to cook dinner for you, living or dead? It would have to be Marie-antoine Carême, an incredibly important French cook and the father of le grande cuisine. I would love him to cook for me and tell me all he knows about French cooking in the 19th century.
SPANISH EYES Joan Roca (above); Jordi, Joan and Josep Roca are the trio behind one of the world’s best restaurants