Spain's Roca brothers on culinary tour
EL CELLER de Can Roca has climbed to the summit of world gastronomy without ruffling the simple routines of the family that runs it.
The restaurant, in this city about an hour's drive north-east of Barcelona, is owned and operated by three brothers who still lunch on their mum's food every day in the nearby restaurant where they grew up, learning about cooking while playing football among the tables and chairs.
"I can't imagine working in a place that is not in Girona, nor working without my brothers," said Joan Roca, the chef and oldest brother.
"We're deeply connected, not just as a family but to this very special part of the earth. We've got around here a diversity of landscapes and ingredients that would be hard to get elsewhere."
But at the end of this month, the brothers will temporarily close El Celler for five weeks (instead of the usual one-week summer break).
They are going on a tour of six cities in the Americas, which kicks off in Houston on Aug 4 and ends in Lima, Peru, on Sept 5. Along with their staff of 30, they plan to visit restaurants, cook at culinary schools and collaborate with other chefs.
The tour is not the prelude to an overseas expansion by El Celler, a tiny establishment that has three Michelin stars and is No. 2 on a list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, an influential, if arbitrary, ranking published by Restaurant Magazine.
Instead, the trip is "an alternative response to the fact that we don't want to open other restaurants in the world, and don't believe you could have a Can Roca restaurant in Los Angeles without also having the Roca brothers working there", said Josep Roca, who is in charge of the restaurant's wines. The youngest brother, Jordi, is the pastry chef.
Neither will the brothers try to recreate the culinary experience of El Celler, which takes creative liberties with traditional Catalan and Mediterranean cuisine - they will leave behind most of the Mediterranean produce that is at the heart of their cooking.
In fact, apart from taking along some Spanish wine, olive oil and cured ham, "we're not bringing anything in our suitcases except the energy of the three brothers and our staff", Josep said.
"The challenge and the fun is to start from zero and use what we find there, somehow imagine what El Celler de Can Roca would be like if we had been growing up and living in a place like Mexico City instead."
The brothers said they hope that ingredients and recipes collected on their tour will find their way back to El Celler, whose menu has become increasingly international as the restaurant has gained fame.
"It's very important to us that a client who comes from the other side of the world has the feeling that he is visiting Girona when he eats here, knows that the shrimps are local and the truffles have been picked in our mountains," Joan said.
"But it doesn't mean that we can't get enriched and be inspired by the other cuisines of the world."