Roca brothers' recipe for success

There is a saying, a family that eats together stays together. For the Roca brothers, this saying extends to them cooking together.

The Roca brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, could very well be the most famous family in Girona, Spain. The trio are behind El Celler De Can Roca, founded by Joan and Josep in 1986. The restaurant was located alongside their parents' simple restaurant, Can Roca, before moving to its current premises up the road. Youngest brother, Jordi, started in the kitchen in 1998.

Each brother has his own part to play in the restaurant. Joan, 51, heads the kitchen, Josep, 49, is the sommelier and Jordi, 36, the pastry chef. Each focuses on his own role, but "we also work together to bring out the synergy in the food", says Jordi.

He adds: "It is very natural for us to be working together, and this arrangement is good as we complement each other." The brothers live within 100m of one another, and still have lunch at their parents' restaurant every day.

Josep and Jordi were in Singapore last month, at the World Gourmet Summit where they presented a sold-out eight-course dinner paired with Macallan whisky, together with executive chef Ivan Brehm, at Bacchanalia. That night, about 80 people got to skip the 11-month long queue to dine at El Cellar.

However, it was business as usual back at El Celler with Joan staying put at the restaurant.

The brothers served four dishes, starting with the timbale of apple and duck liver with vanilla oil, followed by a comte soup, with Scottish lobster, walnuts, onion and curry. Not content with serving sole with just one sauce, diners had four sauces to choose from - orange, apricot, pinenut and curry. The sole was one of their signature dishes. And when Jordi said dessert, which he called chocolate anarchy, "would have a different taste with each bite", he was not kidding. The dessert had multi-layers going for it, thanks to the use of plum, pu erh leaves, cocoa, toffee, bergamot, sandalwood, pepper, dates and figs.

Despite the many accolades that the restaurant has garnered, including getting its third Michelin star in 2009, and being named best restaurant in the world in 2013 by restaurant magazine, UK; and ranking No 2 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, the brothers are very down-to-earth.

Jordi speaks fondly of his brothers. "Joan is most pragmatic, a visionary, a genius and an architect of taste. Josep is the liquid magician." As the liquid specialist, Josep ensures that the whiskies and wines complement the food, "to make the dining experience complete". His favourite wines are those that come from the Catalan region, where the restaurant is located.

Josep says of his brothers: "Joan is the disciplinarian, while Jordi will always be the little brother, but a genius. He always has plenty of ideas and is breaking ground."

As the dessert person, Jordi says that by the end of the meal, diners are more relaxed, and they would be willing to try something different. "I take advantage of that moment," he says. His favourite dessert, however, is simply strawberries and cream.

But ask who of the three is the most demanding in the kitchen, Jordi immediately points to Josep. The sommelier breaks into a sheepish smile and says it is only because he does the final tasting, "so I become very critical". The brothers, who all studied at the Girona Catering School, come from a long line of restaurant owners.

Their grandmother, Grannie Angeleta, was someone who spent all her life stirring pans and feeding people. Their mother, Montserrat Fontane, is the revered driving force and cook, the one who has had the greatest influence on cooking at Can Roca, the restaurant that she owns with her husband. Her family may possibly have been in the restaurant business since the 18th century.

The brothers credit their success to their values such as perseverance, passion in their work, with a focus on hospitality and generosity. "There's also plenty of creativity needed, and you have to be forward looking," says Jordi. Josep adds: "You also need a lot of hard work - at least 16 hours each day."

It is these same values that the brothers say are important lessons that they have learnt from their parents. The long working hours are also what Josep says is hard to deal with, as it keeps him from his family.

Both Joan and Josep have children, but not Jordi just yet. "We have no expectations for the children to take over or to join the restaurant business. We'd rather for them to do what they want to be happy," says Jordi.

This article was first published on May 2, 2015.
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