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CATALONIA

Spain’s top restaurateurs look to mother’s cooking

Three brothers in Spain's northeastern Catalonia region who snatched the title for the world's best restaurant, the Celler de Can Roca, humbly trace their inspiration to their mum's cooking.

Spain's top restaurateurs look to mother's cooking
Joan Roca (R) and Josep Roca (L) kiss their mother Montserrat Fontane (C) at the restaurant in Girona on April 30th. Photo: Quique Garcia/AFP

The Roca brothers, Joan, Jordi, and Josep, had already wowed critics and diners worldwide with a cutting edge technique and cooking rooted in Spanish and Catalan traditions, earning them three Michelin stars.

But four years after fellow Catalan restaurant El Bulli, since closed, was recognised as the best in the world, their Celler de Can Roca this week took the same spot in a vote of food critics and industry leaders organised by British magazine Restaurant.

"The best restaurant in the world does not exist, each one has its own thing, so you have to look at it with a bit of perspective," said Joan Roca, the 49-year-old chef who founded Celler 26 years ago, in an interview with AFP after returning from the awards in London.

Joan has worked for the past 16 years with his brothers, 35-year-old pastry and desert chef Jordi, who is renowned for surrealist culinary creations, and 47-year-old Josep, chief sommelier in charge of a cellar of 35,000 bottles sheltering behind a facade of wooden wine crates.

The three make a "formidable team", Restaurant magazine said.

The brothers' restaurant, with its clean lines and large glass walls, boasts a vast kitchen where 35 cooks from around the world prepare dishes for 45 diners.

The tantalizing menus on offer come in at €135 and €165 ($175 and $215), accompanied by wines at €55 and €85.

But it is nestled in a working-class district of Girona just down the road from the Can Roca restaurant-bar run by their parents Josep Roca and Montserrat Fontane, both pensioners, where the brothers first learned their trade. There, a handful of staff cook up a menu of the day for just €10.

"Cooking will be good if it comes from the heart. At the end of the day what my mother does is not so different from what we do," said Joan, wearing
his white chef's tunic.

The difference between the two establishments is the "complexity", he said.

"People come here to live experiences," Jordi added.

"It is a cuisine that aims to pay homage to this land but which is also open to dialogue with science, technologies," he said of El Celler's cooking, which is famously based on perfumes.

In the kitchen, a glass apparatus containing earth from a nearby forest is extracting the "active aromas" for a dish of morel mushrooms.

Meanwhile pastry chef Jordi tastes each of his team's plates before serving: tiny Bergamot orange macaroons, lime-scented apples, and cocoa and ginger biscuits.

On his workbench you can see flasks of the perfumes the brothers use as inspiration, including the scent Shalimar de Guerlain, which produced a tea, rose and fruity mix, and a lemon perfume, which forms the base of his star desert, Lemon Cloud, made with Bergamot orange cream, lemon and madeleine cakes.

"We created it thinking of children, of the family," Jordi said.

It is this mix of culinary daring and family tradition that has won over critics worldwide.

"El Celler believes in free-style cooking, with a commitment to the avant-garde, but remaining faithful to the memory of different generations of the family's ancestors, all dedicated to feeding people," the contest organizers said in announcing the restaurant's world number-one spot after two years as runners-up.

"Its philosophy is one of 'emotional cuisine', with ingredients chosen to take diners back to childhood memories and a specific place in their past," they said. 

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FOOD & DRINK

Did Spain make Coca-Cola before the US?

Could Kola-Coca, the drink produced in a small Valencian village, have been the inspiration for the world-famous soft drink, Coca-Cola?

Did Spain make Coca-Cola before the US?

Coca-Cola, or coke as it is often referred to, has become one of the most popular drinks around the world since it was invented in 1886 in the United States. It has also become the drink most synonymous with American culture and the secret formula has been patented there too. 

Despite this, in the small town of Aielo de Malferit almost 140 years ago, three partners, Enrique Ortiz, Ricardo Sanz and Bautista Aparici, set up a distillery, which later went on to supply drinks to Queen María Cristina, who was married to King Alfonso XII, and the rest of the royal household. 

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Among the drinks that they created, the most popular by far was the ‘Jarabe Superior de Kola-Coca‘. It was made from kola nuts and coca leaves from Peru, and was dubbed by locals as ‘Heavenly Anise’.

The drink became so successful and popular that in 1885, one of the three founders, Bautista Aparici, travelled to the US to promote it and present the product to consumers in Philadelphia. 

He then returned to Spain, but a year later in 1886 in Atlanta, the pharmacist John Stith Pemberton invented the famous Coca-Cola. Sound familiar?

Whether this was a coincidence or not is open to interpretation, but what is even more interesting, other than the similar name, is that the drink contained basically the same ingredients as the Spanish Kola-Coca too. 

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When it was first created, the basic ingredients of Coca-Cola were just coca leaves, cola nuts and soda water, the same recipe that was made in Aielo in Valencia, except, they used cold water from the region, instead of soda water.

While Coca-Cola went from strength to strength and finally achieved world domination, the distillery in Valencia went on to produce other drinks. 

Then in the mid-1950s, Kola-Coca disappeared from sale when it is said, that representatives from the Coca-Cola company visited the Aielo factory to buy the patent for the ‘heavenly anise’ drink. 

Although there is no material evidence of this patent ever exchanging hands, it’s interesting to think the inspiration for this most American of drinks could have originated in a small village in Spain.

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