Top pastry chef Jordi Roca opens US ice cream shop in Houston with a neurodiverse workforce

Known for Celler de Can Roca, twice named best restaurant in the world, the Catalan dessert maker wants his new venture Rocambolesc to provide ‘job opportunities for people who need it’

Rocambolesc has opened up an ice cream parlor in Houston, Texas.
Rocambolesc has opened up an ice cream parlor in Houston, Texas.Hung L. Truong
Rosa Rivas

It all started in 2012 in the city of Girona, in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region. Then it spread to Barcelona and Madrid. Now the United States is getting its first taste of Rocambolesc, the ice cream shop that the pastry chefs Jordi Roca and his wife Alejandra Rivas created to capture the spirit of El Celler de Can Roca, twice named the best restaurant in the world by the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.

Rocambolesc Houston, which opened on April 22 in the Texas city, is the first leg of a project that aims to expand to other American cities as an example of gastronomy as a social tool. The ice cream shop’s team is made up of young people with neurodiversity (people with cognitive and emotional processes that are different from the norm: autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, hyperactivity...).

The goal is to create job opportunities for people who need them. As such, the new company has been set up as a Public Benefit Corporation, with the commitment to “increase public awareness through these job opportunities and support the career potential of workers,” say the drivers of the project. For this reason, “Rocambolesc USA is associated with organizations specialized in educational and training programs for people with neurological differences, such as The Center for Pursuit and The HUB Houston, which provide employees with the tools to be successful in their jobs and achieve career options, growth and independence.”

Rocambolesc’s American adventure has been carried out in collaboration with the Catalan families Roger and Torras, who own the BCN and MAD restaurants. The shop in Texas is just a first stop, as Rocambolesc USA plans to expand. “We are very satisfied with the warm welcome from the people, very enthusiastic about the opening. For now we are going to establish one more store and then we will see. The idea is to replicate this initiative to continue working with people with neurodiversity in the stores that we open in the United States,” Jordi Roca and Alejandra Rivas told EL PAÍS.

Both pastry chefs are continually exploring the creative possibilities of ice cream, sweets and treats, with impeccable technical skill and great humor. “We want to open new horizons to fill the world with sweetness and happiness in the form of ice cream,” they said regarding the international expansion plans.

A worker at Rocambolesc Houston.
A worker at Rocambolesc Houston. Hung L. Truong

America’s first Rocambolesc boasts a playful, fantasy-world decoration developed by the interior designer Sandra Tarruella. As in all Rocambolesc shops, the dessert creations of Jordi Roca (recognized as the World’s Best Pastry Chef by The World’s 50 Best in 2014 and by The Best Chef Awards in 2019) are brought to ice cream shape by his accomplice in life, Alejandra Rivas, creating a synergy in which the toppings achieve a bold and complete version of the original dessert.

The Houston clientele will be able to taste all the offerings that Roca and Rivas serve in Spain, such as the strawberry and rose water popsicle or the coconut and milk popsicle, and soft ice cream with more than 18 flavors inspired by the Jordi Roca desserts. There is also the panet, one of the star products, a brioche filled with ice cream, cold on the inside and toasted and sealed on the outside, which is made in a rocambolesque machine invented by the pastry chefs.

The inside of Rocambolesc  in Houston, Texas.
The inside of Rocambolesc in Houston, Texas.Hung L. Truong

The new Rocambolesc location is on Uptown Boulevard, an elegant, open-air shopping area in the most vibrant area of Houston, with a wide range of exclusive shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, concerts and theater performances. Houston, which has more than 10,000 restaurants, hosted the BBVA tour of the three-Michelin star Celler de Can Roca in 2015, in which it offered traveling meals and cooked up cuisine from different cities around the world.

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