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Top chef Joan Roca thinks his mum is a better cook than him

The chef of El Celler de Can Roca, current No.2 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, tells us about his relationship with his family and his cooking philosophy. Joan Roca joins the stellar line up of chefs at the Margaret River Gourmet Escape in November.

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Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, currently Number 2 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, is the brainchild of three brothers, Chef Joan Roca, patissier Jordi Roca and sommelier Josep Roca. Growing up immersed in their parents’ restaurant and nourished by their mother’s cooking, the brothers are now known worldwide for their groundbreaking cuisine, which reboots classical Spanish flavours with dazzling technical prowess, and their multidisciplinary collaborations with chefs and artists. We asked Joan Roca about what fuels them.

Family and food are the cornerstones of your life and career. How can people facing modern life pressures maintain their connections to both food and family?Family and food are essential parts of our human nature, and in our value scale they must be placed at a superior level, sharing room with all the things that make us human, above those things that could make us competitive.

You’ve said that in your opinion the ‘World’s Best Restaurant’ is your mother’s, not your own.
Yes, probably that’s because eating is remembering, tasting is a brain connection between palate memories and feelings, so I’m sure the world is full of mothers considered the best chefs by their sons. At the end there’s a love connection in cooking. I’ve tried a thousand times to cook my mother’s rice following her instructions and it has never tasted exactly the same for me. There’s something else going on there, something really beautiful.

Every summer, you tour the world to collaborate with other chefs and restaurants. What have been your most memorable souvenirs?
Realising that after 30 years of restaurant projects we luckily still have much more to discover around the world, such as new cooking techniques we learnt last summer in Hong Kong, or the new seafood species we found in Chile. It’s wonderful to keep being surprised. These trips are a creative and inspirational boost not just for us and our cooks, but also for our dining room service team. We always return home excited to see how we can implement in our restaurant all the new ideas we have learnt.

Working together with your brothers, how do your relationships with them boost or challenge your creativity?
Each of us adds his own vision to any new creation or project we undertake. Our working process is a three-part synthesis of the three disciplines, or worlds, that we each bring to it: Josep is the liquid mind, representing the world of wine; Jordi is the sweet mind, representing the pastry and dessert dimension; and I’m the salty mind, a kind of architect that puts all of it together in harmony.

We start with key concepts that define our philosophy, from which we draw new paths. They include: Product, Landscape, culinary Academia concepts, Memories, a sense of Humour, Boldness, Innovation, Perfume, Poetry, Magic, the world of Wine, Colour, and finally ‘Transversal Creation’ – free creative interplay around a humanistic conception of culinary phenomena. It is a fluent dialogue whose leitmotifs are passion, enjoyment and rigor.

Your cuisine at El Celler de Can Roca is known for its technical complexity. How do you channel that complexity to make it understandable to diners?
The message is simple, and connected with the universal human experience beyond cultural and geographic borders. Respect for a flavour leads us to use techniques respectfully so as to enhance it, to take it to the sublime without altering it or altering the ‘seed memory’ in it that makes it intelligible to everyone. Technique must be kept backstage – on the plate, natural simplicity rules.

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What do you enjoy most about visiting Australia, and is there anything you particularly want to eat or experience when you get to Margaret River?
The possibility of discovering as it will be my first time in Australia, and at Margaret River Gourmet Escape presented by Audi. Getting close to a territory and the excellent gastronomy I’ve been advised about, from its excellent wines and the food to the amazing creativity of its chefs, I’m sure will surprise me for good.

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Note: Margaret River Gourmet Escape is held from November 18 to 20. To find out more, visit: http://www.gourmetescape.com.au/

Text by: Christopher Tan