To call chef Jordi Roca a genius is an understatement. Named Restaurant Magazine’s World’s Best Pastry Chef of 2014 and one of the three brilliant founders of 2013’s best restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, his commitment to excellence and innovation are undeniable. He’s been called “part chef, part architect, and part magician,” three parts he demonstrated during a recent master class at the International Culinary Center in New York City. A dozen lucky students, aspiring to be chefs, had the honor of watching Chef Roca make a few of his signature desserts while he discussed the creative process at El Celler de Can Roca.
(Photo by Will Star)
Chef Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca prepares his chocolate Anarchy dessert during a master class for a dozen student chefs at the International Culinary Center in New York City on Monday.
This class comes just before Chef Roca and his two brothers, along with more than 20 members of their restaurant’s staff, will embark on a BBVA-sponsored world tour this summer. They’re taking their restaurant on the road for five weeks to recreate the El Celler de Can Roca experience for BBVA clients in Houston, Dallas, Mexico City, Monterrey, Lima, and Bogota.
I had the distinct pleasure of talking with chef Jordi Roca (through a translator) who shared a bit about himself, the creative process at the award-winning restaurant, and the upcoming world tour.
Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up in the kitchen and working with your family?
It was very normal, really. It was different from my friends, instead of playing in the living room I was playing in the dining room, hanging out with our customers, but those customers became part of the family. It was a very unique family-oriented environment.
Given the fact that you grew up working in your parents’ restaurant, what made you decide to go to culinary school?
It was nearby! I grew up in a culinary environment; I think it was the most sensible thing to do.
And what made you pursue pastry specifically?
Well, when I first started working in the restaurant I was just helping out. I was really young and would help wherever they needed me. I guess you could say I was cheap labor! At first, I started as a server, but, when I realized the servers finished at 2 a.m. and the chefs finished at midnight I said, “I want to be a chef!” And, that’s how I discovered my career. When the restaurant first hired a pastry chef (before then the same chef that made salads would also make the desserts), he needed a hand and so I had to work with him. But, I really learned a lot from him; he was technically very well-trained and was very gifted. He helped me conceive a new way of cooking and I really began to evolve to the point that I could speak to my brothers as a peer, speak to them about things they didn’t know much about. And that’s how the three-way cooperation began.
I love that you work with your brothers. Can you tell me about the creative process? How does it work with three people?
It’s a very spontaneous process. Sometimes an idea comes out of the blue at 2 a.m. Some ideas are good and some are bad. We write them down, try to choose the good ones, and then sleep on it. Once we’ve decided on a good idea we start developing it. Joan is the more technical one, the most pragmatic. Josep is a bit of a poet (the more mystical one of the three) and with a great memory for smell, and I am the crazier one; I like to play, I’m a bit bolder probably. Out of these three perspectives we try to come up with an idea based on consensus; we always really reflect on it and we always take it very seriously. If I put one of my ideas on the menu (my idea only) it wouldn’t be as successful as an idea discussed among the three of us. The process of collaboration is what makes our concepts successful.
And, can you tell me a little bit about the world tour this summer?
This tour is a great opportunity offered to us by BBVA Compass; the opportunity to take the restaurant with us on the road — this is the first time this has been done. It’s a challenge from a logistical point of view but the entire team is excited about it. We have the opportunity to go to different cities and countries, to discover different cuisines, styles, and cultures — things we’ve learned about from a distance but can now learn about in person. We are super excited to be fully immersed in this learning.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.