The Roca brothers of El Celler de Can Roca talked with Food & Wine about the pressures—and rewards—of being hailed the best in the world.
Most chefs sacrifice their personal lives, health and every moment of free time to achieve just a fraction of what the Roca brothers—Josep, the sommelier; Jordi the pastry chef; and Joan, the chef—have accomplished at the three-Michelin star El Celler de Can Roca. In 2013 and 2015, Restaurant magazine named their restaurant the best in the world (the magazine also named Jordi the world’s best pastry chef in 2014). On the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List for 2017, El Celler de Can Roca is ranked number three.
At a time when some restaurants and chefs are asking that the Michelin-guide remove their stars—citing pressure to craft meals for inspectors with no notice— the Roca brothers have managed to stay remarkably grounded about the accolades piling up in their name.
“We have kept our feet firmly on the ground and continue to cook with enthusiasm,” the brothers told Food & Wine through a translator. “International acknowledgements of course make us happy…But for us, the idea of improving day-by-day in our restaurant is our real dream come true.”
The benefits of these awards have extended beyond their kitchen: The Rocas say that in Girona, where the restaurant is located, international recognition has “generated an economic reactivation,” which as affected not just tourism, but “small suppliers of the region,” as well.
Wins like this for their hometown keep the brothers going. They have yet to crumble (at least outwardly) under the weight of their awards because they see the expectations that arise as a positive.
“We have been able to turn pressure into fuel by keeping committed to the non-conformist spirit that lead us to create our restaurant,” they said.
The brothers have a healthy attitude about reviews, critics and the din of public opinion that surrounds El Cellar de Can Roca, in part because they remain steadfast in their belief that “the things that make us human”—food and family—should be more highly valued than “those things that make us competitive.” Instead of dwelling on when the Michelin inspectors might show up or what magazine is releasing a new list, they simply stay focused on improving their restaurant.
“We concentrate in developing rather than paying attention to what is said outside, which at the end it’s not under our control at all,” the brothers explained. “We [have] the same passion as our first day, always working on something new.”
To that end, the Roca brothers, who recently partnered with American Express's Global Dining Collection, are launching at a partnership with the United Nations Development Programs in Kaduna, Nigeria called Food Africa that will help “reduce crop waste and improve small farmer’s profitability.”
The Roca brothers don’t necessarily have a magic formula that makes them stay level-headed in an environment that feeds on cosmic levels of pressure and demands near-constant innovation and creativity. While some of what makes the Rocas so successful is, of course, pure talent, their outlook on their profession—that a great restaurant should always serve the community and honor the traditions and resources of its country of origin—is essential if El Celler de Can Roca wants to maintain its position as one of the best restaurants in the world.
“What makes the perfect balance? Not forgetting where we come from, our roots, our tradition, nearby surroundings, and the natural environment,” they explain. “These roots keep it all solid and human; then you can spread your branches without losing your identity. Roots provide the perfect balance.”
This interview has been edited for clarity.