Most sophisticated restaurants attempt to entice the palate by way of culinary precision and indelible artistry. Then there are those that demonstrate the full embodiment of a culture; a family, a multi-generational dedication to a craft who embrace external influences, but are primarily motivated by what is immediately available within one’s local community, further encouraged by academia, tradition, innovation and transversal creation.
El Celler de Can Roca is emblematic of the latter. A transcendental experience, El Celler de Can Roca resides in the small town of Girona, Spain, approximately 100 kilometers northeast of Barcelona, in an area known as “Costa Brava” (“Wild Coast”). Immediately satiated by access to the Balearic Sea, three lush mountain ranges, and numerous local farms, the Roca Brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, grew up assisting in their mother’s kitchen, and then working in the family restaurant, Can Roca. Unbeknownst to them at the time, they were within 100 meters of where they would carve out their niche as three of the greatest gastronomic and oenophilic minds in the world.
Adorned with 3 Michelin stars, the brothers at El Celler de Can Roca recently decided to pack up shop, lock the doors, and travel the world in order to share their love of and affinity towards food, wine, conversation and culture. Along with twenty-four of the restaurant’s exquisitely trained chefs, the Roca brothers graced the United States (only) by way of Houston and Dallas before venturing south to the Mexican cities of Monterrey and Mexico City, followed by Bogotá, Colombia and Lima, Peru. Adhering to the ideal that greatness is achieved by maintaining intimacy with culture, tradition, and terroir, the Roca brothers stowed their techniques and technology, which were ultimately applied to local Texas ingredients.
The Rachofsky House in Preston Hollow set the scene, as white-gloved servers passed plated appetizers and precocious libations. Salted Iberico ham was shaved tableside and paired with a Tio Pepe González Byass D.O. Sherry. Prawns were grilled, then flaked with sea salt and complemented with chilled Cava.
Then the lights dimmed as the curtains drew.
Our formal appetizer, entitled “El Mundo” (“The World”), was presented in an elegantly fanned black paper canopy, served atop a cedar branch with five metal rings, each holding a single bite in suspension. Emblematic of each region visited during El Celler’s world tour, we were presented with a green “tomato”, filled with guacamole and coriander, a miniature corn taco with mole, a sweet corn fritter filled with a spicy barbecue sauce, “mashed potato” with yellow pepper and black olive powder, and a “Colombian Basket” consisting of peanuts guirlache, coconut cream, lima gel, coffee jelly, caramel and cider. Additional appetizers followed (ten in the aggregate) including a margarita bonbon, steamed prawns over tequila-“impregnated” stones, corn tile with prawns powder and prawns reduction, a liquid tortilla of chicken tinga, and a steamed brioche with mushrooms mayonnaise.
Act II brought forth eight courses including a number of elegant soups and small bites, each of which utilized fresh, local ingredients that were seasonally apt for a warm, summer evening in Dallas.
My personal favorite was a chilled bean gazpacho with iced watermelon cubes and a panko-fried oyster. What made the dish was the contrast of hot and cold, sweet and savory, and three distinct textural elements derived from crispy panko, creamy oyster and chilled watermelon. Also of interest was the Oaxaca cream cheese with fermented and lyophilized corn. The macerated corn and cheese preparation provided a creamy, dense texture with a very noticeable finish by way of traits found within anything fermented.
The bite of the evening came by way of a roasted piglet with apple-mint and melon orange clove. Paired with a Mas la Plana 1987 Miguel Torres D.O. Penedès, the suckling pig’s skin was crisp and succulent, which gave way to an intensely moist and flavorful finish. The warm, bovine reduction was proficiently cut with the acid derived from chilled melon and green apple.
My second favorite plate came by way of veal shank with grilled avocado, cumin, oregano, coriander and cinnamon. This dish also incorporated a red pepper and cheddar sauce, but fortunately it was on the side. While I appreciated the effort, I thought it was unnecessary to overcomplicate a dish that was excellent in isolation. The veal was paired with a Valbuena 2006 Vega Sicilia D.O. Ribera del Duero, which championed itself as my favorite soft red of the evening.
Dessert was presented by way of multiple separate small plates, the most inventive of which was entitled “Núvol de Llimona” (“Lemon Cloud”). Consisting of cream of bergamot, lemon compote, distilled water lemon granita, ice-cream of lemon cupcake and lemon sugar, the dessert carefully danced along a tightrope of sweet and sour. Upon ingestion, each guest lifted a small paper cone, which contained a signature Roca perfume designed to finalize the experience by way of scent.
Named the best restaurant in the world in 2013 by Restaurant magazine (and a silver medalist in 2011, 2012 and 2014, second only to René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen), El Celler de Can Roca is more than a memorable dining establishment, but rather a historical expedition through the art of traditional and modern culinary practices of the Costa Brava region. If they are capable of accomplishing this type of event in foreign lands, I can only imagine what they can present at home.
Appreciation goes out to celebrity chef Ingrid Hoffmann, who acted as an ad-hoc translator, given the fact that the Roca brothers predominately spoke Spanish. Also to BBVA, who sponsored El Celler de Can Roca’s globetrotting, if for not, none of those in attendance would have been able to experience the Roca brothers’ Texas adaptation of their acclaimed restaurant. BBVA’s philanthropic efforts should also be acknowledged, as they are presenting two Dallas student chefs from Le Cordon Bleu with a four-month apprenticeship with the Roca brothers next year in Catalonia.