“Finally back to number one!” raved the enthusiastic family of Spanish chefs who were gathered in London for Restaurant magazine’s annual Best Restaurant award ceremony. The winner was El Celler de Can Roca, a restaurant known for its avant-garde gastronomy and Catalan roots. Located in Girona, El Celler is led by an extraordinary trio of chefs, Joan Roca, master of savory fare, Jordi, king of all things sweet, and Josep, whose liquid concoctions are out of this world.
“This is a wonderful moment. We feel like we are getting a lot of love and support,” said Joan Roca, in his usual down-to-earth style. “This award is very important for all of Spanish cuisine because it shows that we are continuing to attract the attention of gourmets throughout the world, and this reinforces the idea that the Spanish commitment to avant-garde and creative eating is very much alive. Spanish gastronomy needed a push like this to lay claim to the world.”
Joan’s brothers, Josep and Jordi, looked a little more star-struck. “I'm freaking out – I had expectations, but I never imagined we would get to this point,” said Jordi, the youngest of the Roca household. Josep, the more experienced restaurant manager, said he “had a feeling” that the restaurant would be rated favorably when, after they gave a presentation in London of their Somni project – “a combination of “gastronomy, music and virtual reality” – the crowds gave them a round of applause that lasted more than 15 minutes.
The Roca brothers, who have been awarded three Michelin stars, have also just launched a book, which contains a compilation of the restaurant’s 25-year success story, with recipes and tales, all accompanied by spectacular photos that document the chefs’ creative processes. The text (written in Catalan, English and Spanish) is anchored in the environment of the restaurant’s Spanish home, but includes influences from expeditions to Asia (Japanese black garlic, yuzu, and Korean soy) and the Americas (Peruvian quinoa and other Brazilian and Andean grains).
The Top 10
1. El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain)
2. Noma (Copenhagen, Denmark)
3. Osteria Francescana (Modena, Italy)
4. Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain)
5. Eleven Madison Park (New York City, USA)
6. D.O.M. (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
7. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (London, Great Britain)
8. Arzak (San Sebastian, Spain)
9. Steirereck (Vienna, Austria)
10. Vendôme Bergisch (Gladbach, Germany)
As a notable leader in the culinary field, the restaurant has hosted a large group of apprentices from around the world that have, to the Roca brothers’ pride and joy, established restaurants also on the 50 Best list, including Brazilian restaurant Maní, led by chefs Dani Redondo and Helena Rizzo. The duo studied with the Roca brothers at El Celler and have since returned to Brazil and triumphantly conquered the restaurant scene of Sao Paulo.
The Roca trio recently renovated the gastronomic direction of Barcelona’s Hotel OMM, where, in addition to the restaurant, guests can visit the Roca Bar, a place to sip on drinks and sample decently priced and artfully constructed tapas, including Los Rocadillos, combinations of meats and cheeses wrapped in a salty brioche, and that look more like ice-cream cones than mini-sandwiches. The brioche, in fact, was inspired by the same iconoclastic ice-cream cone design that Jordi, the youngest Roca, has become famous for at the restaurant’s ice-cream parlor, Girona Rocambolesc.
The Roca brothers have made other contributions to innovative cookware, such as the Rotaval, a strange machine that distils food products, which they created in partnership with the Alicia Foundation of Food Research. They have developed an entire line of creative wines (including a cava that you can actually chew) and have broken the boundaries of sweet and salty in their peculiar food combinations. They have transformed perfumes into deserts, and vice versa. The essence of a lemony sponge cake soaked in a sweet creamy reduction, for example, is now being sold as a fragrance called Núvol de llimona on the restaurant’s website.
As well as the success of El Celler, Spanish establishments featured further down the list, with Mugaritz (Errenteria) not far behind at number four, Arzak (San Sebastián) at number 8, along with six others in the top 100, including Quique Dacosta, Extebarri and Tickets.
The former number one was Noma, a Danish restaurant run by René Redzepi, which took the top spot in 2010 and stayed there for two years. The restaurant is now in second place, having been unable to achieve the dominance of elBulli, led by Spanish culinary genius Ferran Adrià, who reigned as number one from 2006 to 2009 in addition to holding the top spot in 2002. Adrià, to whom Restaurant magazine gave the honorary title of Best Chef of the Decade, let out tears of joy upon receiving the news of the success of his friends at El Celler.