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Famed Roca Brothers commit to feeding the world
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Feed the world. That’s what the Roca Brothers—Joan, Josep, and Jordi—of top-rated Catalan restaurant El Celler de Can Roca have set out to do.
Guests who can get a reservation are in for a worldly experience at the restaurant in the medieval city of Girona, Spain, which has been ranked No. 1 twice on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Waiters carry out 3D globes with round, orbiting morsels each resembling a taste of a specific country listed on the menu. Flavors of Japan are reimagined with a panko fried bread ball of crispy bacon, soja sauce, snow peas, kimchi, and sesame oil. Taste buds take a trip to Morocco via a spherical medley of almond, rose, honey, and saffron and a hint of goat yogurt; and travel to Turkey with a mouthful of lentil puree, eggplant, and spices with raw cucumber.
The Roca Brothers have propelled to worldwide recognition after being featured on an episode of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table: Pastry” this year, which chronicles their meticulous rise to culinary greatness. Their 15-course menu combines food with technology like a dark chocolate cigar filled with ice cream that’s infused with actual cigar smoke and served with dipping sauces that look like ashes. Their gastronomic strength is in numbers, each brother has his own area of expertise: Joan is the chef, Josep currates the extensive wine list, and Jordi runs the pastry program.
“Nobody makes us work together, and if we didn’t get along we would probably have three different restaurants,” Joan says through a translator. “The truth is, we complement each other. This mentality of working together is something that we have in the very inner part of us. I don’t know all this would be with just one of my brothers.”
Feeding people outside of their namesake restaurant is also a priority. The Roca brothers serve as United Nations Goodwill Ambassadors, and have made it their mission to transform agriculture in Africa by supporting sustainable farming to reduce poverty and hunger. The trio has traveled across the continent, sampling food and meeting with farmers, chefs, and government officials to gain insight on how to tackle the issue of food waste.
“We’re now working on a project in Nigeria together with the U.N., and we’re trying to spread more knowledge among chefs on how to better use the food waste. This idea of reusing is something we learned at our parent’s restaurant,” Joan says.
Sustainability is something the Roca brothers instill with their team at El Celler de Can Roca. Things like broken glass, old crates, and boxes are recycled to make new glassware, chairs, and stools you’ll find inside the restaurant.
“My mother and our grandmother belonged to this generation that went through the Spanish War and lived through difficult times after. They really taught us not to throw anything away and the value food has. It’s what we still do today,” Joan says.
The restaurant, which opened in 1986 next to the Roca brothers’ parents’ restaurant Can Roca, holds three Michelin stars. The continued accolades have made the small city of Girona, with a population of a little over 99,000, more of a destination.
“It’s very important, but not for us, for everyone that’s around: our team, the city, the territory and producers. The fact that we’re here has made this place a gourmet destination. There’s an economic fabric that goes along with it. It’s also a matter of prestige in terms of tourist attraction and it’s also good for the self-esteem of our neighbors and the people being here. They see that we’ve made this place more visible and recognized because of gastronomy so that’s why these awards matter,” Joan says.
The awards have made it harder for diners to get a seat at the restaurant. Reservations are fully booked through next year, though a few lucky diners have been able to get in without one. The Roca Brothers partnered with American Express Platinum to give card members the opportunity to eat at the restaurant through its Global Dining Collection and By Invitation Only event, which curates experiences in fine dining, art, and performances.
“We reached a point when we managed to be the best restaurant in the world back in 2013, where in the span of two hours we received two million visitors trying to book a meal through our website,” Joan says. “Since then, we are completely booked 11 months in advance. The first day every month we open reservations for the next year.”
He advises eager diners to book at exactly midnight on the first of every month for a chance to dine at the restaurant. “You have to be very quick because in five minutes, everything is sold out for the whole month,” he says. “People set their alarms for it. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.”