El Celler de Can Roca is a world-famous restaurant run by three brothers: Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca. The restaurant was opened in 1986 and its impact and success have been increasing since then. Today, it has three Michelin stars and it’s ranked twice as the number one restaurant in the world. The success of the restaurant comes from the motivation of improving and always renovating, the endless passion of Roca brothers, and their strong relationship with their team and their community, which impact immensely beyond borders.
It’s clear from the beginning: This dinner will not only feed us food; but also memories, stories, emotions and lives.
Before we start, let me share how I “won” this amazing dinner. In fall of 2017, I competed at the “pour and pair competition” of International Sherry Week. The task was clear: They sent me a bottle of Manzanilla wine and asked me to create a pairing. So, I decided to bring Nova Scotia and Andalusia together. I paired this Sherry wine with the noble seafood of Nova Scotia: lobster. Renowned sommeliers and chefs judged all the pairings, and I was the winner! My prize was a dinner at El Celler de Can Roca. My happiness and excitement increased day by day while waiting for the reservation day to come. And it finally did.
The Dinner Starts…
It was a warm June day when we arrived in Girona and we made it to El Celler de Can Roca at the reservation time. Our host welcomed us with a friendly smile, congratulated me for winning the contest, and asked us if we would like to make a kitchen tour. All the people in the kitchen were busy as a bee, but they still stopped for a second to greet us warmly.
After touring the kitchen, our host accompanied us to the table. The dining room was decorated in a modern and neutral way. There was nothing to keep the attention away from After touring the kitchen, our host accompanied us to the table. Soon after we had our glasses full with a traditional method sparkling wine produced by Albet I Noya, specially to be served at El Celler de Can Roca. We were about to start to experience the “Feast Menu”, accompanied by wine pairings selected by Josep Roca, the sommelier of the restaurant. Enjoying the excited bubbles of the sparkling wine, my eyes started to wander around in details of the dining room. It was decorated in a modern and neutral way. There was nothing to keep the attention away from the plates. All the tables were looking at a glass showcase with real trees inside. These trees were planted before the restaurant was built and rather than cutting them, they decided to integrate them to the dining room this way. Each table and each seat had their own spotlights from both sides, driving the attention directly to the plates. The table was decorated in a simple but meaningful manner: There were three rocks placed on the table, which represent 3 Roca brothers.
The most fun part of the dinner was the amuse-bouche showing the roots, limitless creativity, and international experience of the chef. First one was designed to make us travel around “The world” – a globe with five amuse-bouche from five different countries: Turkey, Peru, Korea, Japan and Thailand. Each bite was designed specifically with the inspiration that Roca brothers collected after their travels and hard work they put together with their team. They made us travel around the world with only five bites, like a summary of the flavours from each country. “The world” had a game for us as well: Correctly match the amuse-bouche with the corresponding country, to unlock the globe to win the secret snack inside. It was the best way to finish this journey around the world.
The second amuse-bouche was the “Memories of a bar in the suburbs of Girona”, designed to make us travel back in time and live a scene from the childhood of the Roca brothers. The diorama showed the “Bar-Restaurant Can Roca”, the restaurant owned by parents of Roca brothers, this was actually where they grew up, surrounded and inspired by the local cuisine practiced by their family. In the diorama, we could see Jordi Roca riding his bike, Joan Roca in the kitchen, and Josep Roca smiling at us in his Yankees t-shirt at the bar. As “The World”, this also came with five small bites, including dishes cooked by their family, such as the delicious meat cannelloni of their mother, Montserrat Fontané. Another bite was a “campari bonbon” with grapefruit juice inside, which was like an explosion of freshness and creaminess in the mouth.
With the third amuse-bouche, we went on a cruise on Mediterranean Sea and then went snorkeling to find starfish on the sand. An elegant presentation with a silver apparatus in the shape of a coral carrying four spoons serving two different seafood tapas. The silver coral was accompanied by a plank, covered with a fishing net with two starfishes on it, made from seaweed and prawns. It looked like the real scenery of a starfish caught on fishing nets. I could taste the sea salt left on my lips and smell the seaweeds.
Coming back from the seaside, the fourth amuse-bouche took us to an olive harvest. A real bonsai olive tree came to our table, and it was carrying some black and green olives. The black one was a tempura of black olive. It was very crisp. The green one was olive ice-cream with anchovy that cleansed our mouths with its freshness.
The final amuse-bouche was a steamed brioche filled with Saint George mushrooms served with a layer of truffle on top. They were served on a white ceramic cup with soil in it. The mushrooms were placed in a way that it felt like collecting mushrooms from the forest floor. It was genius and tasty at the same time.
Vegetables and Seafood Courses
We had nine courses of vegetables, fish and seafood, all very delicious, unique and beautifully presented, reinforcing the intense flavors of the main ingredients, such as tomatoes, white asparagus, hake, mackerel and langoustine.
Among these nine amazing plates, there was one dish that impacted me a lot, making me feel like I was on a cruise in Costa Brava: “Red Prawn from Palamos”. Palamos is a town in Costa Brava, which has recognition with this prawn being brightly red with intense flavours. Almost all parts of the prawn were utilized in a different way to make the best of this ingredient. Red prawn was marinated with rice vinegar shortly, to keep its natural intense flavor. Prawn legs were dehydrated and then fried, which made them very crispy. They were served on a very rich sauce made from the head of the prawn. The result was a plate with concentrated flavours, and more importantly respecting the ingredient.
Following all the experience on the seaside, we came back to the earth, and had three courses of meat including Iberian suckling pig, smoked duck and pigeon. The plate that stood out for me was the “Pigeon trilogy”. The pigeon was cooked in a way that it could show different textures and seasoned with cacao and orange creating a very nice perfume.
While we were on our meat courses, Josep Roca came to greet the customers at each table. It was a great pleasure to meet him, he was very welcoming, friendly and modest, along with all this success. He kindly accepted to have a photo with me. We had a lovely conversation about our origins and wines. After our chat, he kindly sent two special wines to our table, one from Turkey and one from Chile, representing our origins. It was a very thoughtful gesture that made us feel special. I will probably not remember what he told us that day, but I will never forget how he made us feel.
Finally, it was time for the dessert part! The first dessert was “Flowers of Girona”. an edible version of Girona on the plate. Walking down by the Onyar River, you can fall in love with the silhouette of the city and its colorful houses blended harmoniously with the historical buildings. Jordi Roca’s imagination carried this beautiful scenery to the plate, using the actual flowers of the city. Moreover, a unique cutlery was designed for this plate, which made this experience even more enchanting.
After tasting the flowers of Girona, we had a rich chocolate dessert, made with all three types of chocolate and its intense flavors. Following, there was a final surprise: A dessert cart came in front of our table, with a wide selection of chocolate, candy and fruits! We could choose any of these sweets, and they served them on glass dishes. These glass dishes were recycled from the empty wine glass bottles that were consumed in the restaurant. This is a result of the zero-waste initiative of the restaurant, as “the opportunity to give back all that nature gives to us”, as Jordi Roca stated. Finally, we received a box where we could put the chocolates inside to take them with us. This was a great detail, since it gave us a chance to extend this sweet experience to another day.
Wine pairings for each course were selected specifically to accompany these amazing plates and to carry them even further. We had a chance to drink interesting wines from Catalonia, from other regions of Spain, including Jerez, Galicia and Rioja, from Germany, France, Italy, and as I mentioned, from Turkey and Chile.
One of the wines that I enjoyed a lot was an orange wine “La Perdida, O Pando 2016”, made from 100 % Godello grapes grown organically and biodynamically in Galicia. The grower and winemaker, Nacho Gonzalez, hand harvested, and foot crushed the grapes, fermented in tinajas (amphorae) and aged the wine in oak barrels without any sulfur addition and obtained a unique wine. It was a very interesting orange wine with intense and complex aromas and flavors. Another very interesting wine was “Cosmic Vinyaters, Confianca Grenache Gris 2016”. A red wine made from biodynamically grown grapes in Agullana (Alt Emporda) in Girona, with a fermentation partially in amphorea with native yeasts. The result was a wine with light pink color and elegantly aromatic nose with raspberry, herbs and some toasty aromas.
Final Thoughts and Emotions
All this experience lasted more than four hours, full of incredible presentations, delicious food and delightful wine pairings. This dinner made me travel, showed me the lives and universe of Roca brothers, introduced me to the local ingredients of Catalonia, took me to a cruise tour in Mediterranean Sea, made me climb to olive trees, collect mushrooms from the forest floor and find a starfish on a net. It was beyond my imagination and exceeded my highest expectations. This dinner was not only food, but also memories, stories, emotions and lives. It was beyond borders.
Special gesture of Josep Roca, serving us wines from our home countries, was an unforgettable memory that I am thankful for. Moreover, a special attention for their respect to nature, by utilizing as many parts of an ingredient, which increase the flavor and also their value, and by recycling their waste as many ways possible deserve a huge applause. Finally, there was incredible teamwork behind these successfully presented dishes and smooth service. It was clear that all the team members made their job with passion and they were very knowledgeable about everything they presented.
Roca brothers have no limits on creating new things, increasing the value of their region and impacting positively on people’s lives. I consider myself a lucky person to have experienced an evening in this special place and had a piece of understanding of the great job that they are doing.
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