After being named the ‘best restaurant in the world’, not once but twice, you’d think success and stardom would go to Joan Roca’s head. But that hasn’t been the case for the 3-Michelin star chef at El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Girona, Spain. He says that the best part of his job is simply “when a customer returns because they’re happy with your work.” We’re going to look into Roca’s life, the incredible success of his restaurant, and select three pieces of his best culinary advice for you to follow.
1. From Family Restaurant to Global Favorite
Perhaps Joan Roca’s path in life was determined years before he was even born, but ultimately his decision to follow his family into the kitchen was one he made willingly. Joan Roca, and his brothers Josep and Jordi, all grew up in and around their parents’ restaurant, Can Roca. Joan recalls his first interaction with the culinary world as being:
“My mother made me sew a kitchen jacket when I was ten years old, and it was at that time that I entered this world.”
From that moment, he started helping out after school and gradually fell in love with the profession. He went on to train at Escola d'Hosteleria de Girona, where later he became a teacher. In 1986, he opened his restaurant in a small building next to Can Roca. Over the years, the restaurant became a household name and with this came plans to expand so in 2007 the restaurant moved to its current location.
After three generations of his family had devoted their lives to hospitality, Roca had a lot to live up to. Not only did he follow in their footsteps, but he also ventured along new trails within the culinary world. His revolutionary work was recognized when El Celler de Can Roca was named as the world’s best restaurant in 2013 and 2015.
His two brothers also a huge part of the restaurant’s success and are award-winners in their own fields, Josep as the sommelier, and Jordi as the pastry chef. The Roca brothers are now famous across the hospitality world, however, Joan maintains that:
“We aren’t rock stars. We might be rockers, which is something entirely different.”
Perhaps it’s this reluctance to acknowledge their own notoriety that has allowed the culinary masterminds to stay true to the flavors of their childhood. Roca is always keen to praise his mother, Montserrat, and grandmother, Angeleta for infusing him with his initial knowledge and passion for cooking.
2. Can Roca's Sweet Taste of Success
El Celler de Can Roca didn’t expect to win all the awards it has, but there is no doubt they deserved them and it seems once they started winning, they just couldn’t stop! From 2009 to 2013, the restaurant was in the top 5 best restaurants in the world and in 2016 Joan was voted as the best chef by Chefs’ Choice Award by Restaurant Magazine.
Joan’s philosophy really emphasizes the importance of authenticity, tradition, and modesty as a part of his secret recipe for success. He appreciates every award that he has received but when the three brothers were recognized as number one, he realized that the impact had stretched beyond the walls of the restaurant, saying that “…it’s a success that becomes part of the city, the region, the country.”
Although his first experience in the kitchen was with a needle rather than a knife, the precision and concentration he learned seem to have been transmitted into his cuisine. Roca is not only a great master of “perfumed gastronomy” (a technique pioneered by the Roca brothers), he’s also an advocate for his local community of producers. His care for the ingredients he uses coupled with his creative imagination produces sublime dishes.
One of his signatures, which now appears on menus across Catalonia, is pig trotter carpaccio, a modern reinterpretation of a traditional Catalan dish. Another is perhaps more obscure, oyster and distilled soil, which requires the soil to be boiled and distilled so that the extract can be used to flavor the fish.
Can Roca not only wants to be renowned for out-of-this-world dining experiences, but it also wants to be known as the place to work for hospitality staff. The brothers are big fans of wellness. To combat physical fatigue, they run a double shift system, which means they have one brigade working at lunch and an entirely different one for dinner service.
Working at the peak of your profession in a fast-paced and competitive environment can bring about increases in temperature and tension. One way Roca cools things down is by closing the restaurant on Tuesday afternoons to talk with the team. They can either settle matters here or with the restaurant’s in-house psychologist.
3. Joan Roca's Delicious Advice
Joan Roca strikes a unique balance between being a hometown hero and a globally renowned chef. He has acquired a wealth of experience over his years running El Celler de Can Roca and maintaining it’s visionary status has meant hiring hospitality professionals that share his attitude, desire, and drive.
With this in mind, he says that when hiring new staff, he looks for:
“An attitude, much more than skills. They need to be willing to learn, they have to enjoy cooking, they have to be happy in a kitchen, and have a positive attitude.”
Passion is obviously as essential to the El Celler de Can Roca philosophy as anything.
Another pearl of wisdom that Roca can share with those aspiring to make it in the hospitality industry is to discover your profession through internships. When asked what was his most valuable experience as a young chef, he said:
“The experiences I gained from the different places where I did my internships. [They were]… invaluable experiences.”
Joan Roca is a calm, collected, culinary genius but what truly makes him stand out as a first-class hospitality professional is his love for what he does. It’s so genuine and authentic, he speaks as if every day in work is one to be savored and that’s something we admire:
“Hospitality is a wonderful world, where you can be happy by making others happy. You can make someone’s day better by cooking for them. You can make them feel better, and that’s marvelous. Only those who do this job can achieve that.”