From where he stands, Josep Roca sees many changes in the gastronomic scenario of the future. Sommelier, head waiter and co-owner (with his brothers Joan and Jordi) of the acclaimed restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, he believes that it is in the dining room that many of the transformations in the way we eat will take place.
According to him, that is because we are living a humanist revolution, in which relationships – and the result we draw from them – matter more than ever. And in the dining scene, the experience today is more evaluated than the food itself. He has worked hard to gather industrial design, sensory anthropology, and even gastroenterology to elevate the hospitality level in his restaurant.
One of the most innovative service professionals in the world, Roca has worked on projects such as Ars Natura Líquida to develop a partnership with agronomist Joan Carbó and the doctor in Organic Chemistry Bernat Guixer to create unique spirits and wines (among them raspberry wine, beer brandy, and a geisha coffee liqueur) to serve in El Celler.
“I'm a waiter”, he says. “I think I was born to care because serving is caring”, he adds.
Fine Dining Lovers talked with Josep Roca during Ñam, Chile's biggest gastronomic event, which takes place each year in Santiago, and where he was one of the guests of honor. In the following interview, he talks about hospitality and how he believes the diner experience will be more intimate and personalized in a near future.
The experience in the restaurants has been more valued in the gastronomy nowadays. In that sense, do you think hospitality plays a more crucial role in the customer’s perception?
I believe it is a very special moment for hospitality. We were part of a gastronomic revolution, which was Spanish avant-garde cuisine, and today there is a moment of privilege for a evolution of the room, and a great change can come from this sector, from the way we serve our guests. For a long time, we have had a technological revolution, an ingredient revolution, and today the revolution is more linked to the idea of emotion. So we are living in a new moment of sensibility, humanization of how to treat the diner. This can lead the way we serve a guest in the restaurant. We can and do offer a better experience for him.
In this era of celebrity chefs, when they gained prominence in the restaurant industry, hospitality was often in second place, having less distinction. Do you agree with that?
I think it's healthy; we need to recognize the importance of the kitchen. In the dining room, we need to seduce the diner and even elevate what is done inside the kitchen, be the communicators, the bridge between the dish and the guest. We can also take advantage of the notoriety of gastronomy to claim the importance of the stories, and how we can tell them to our guests. Human beings are fascinated by stories, and we specialize in telling these tales through food. I have the definitive idea that today people want more to be better cared for than served good food. And this brings us to the evidence that the hospitality has a fantastic opportunity to develop a more holistic view of the customer experience, tied to emotion. So I believe that gastronomy today can reinvent itself from the room, in terms of creativity, inspiration, from wines, and also with a liquid approach - and here I mean drinks, but also a sense of fluidity, of sensations.
You talked about the Spanish vanguard cuisine moviment, but what do you believe will be the forefront of hospitality? How do you see the future of service?
In El Celler de Can Roca we marked an important advance in this direction, thanks to my brothers, for being generous in understanding the complexity and the importance of the service in the restaurant. They allowed me to seek for innovation in the way of serving, whether in utensils, cutlery and dishes, or on dynamizing the idea of recycling and sustainability, creating fragrances and aromas for multisensorial perceptions, establishing a new look for the cocktail party, and, most importantly, recognizing that the people working in the dining room can contribute with ideas to the creative processes that take place in the kitchen.
And how can other restaurants begin this change?
I think many have already started. In the moment that the cook goes to the dining room to present his dishes to the guest, he is already showing how much he recognizes the importance of the service, of serving the customer well and of creating an effective communication with him that perhaps the dish itself couldn’t. We come to understand that we must tell what we serve, seek to do so in an attractive, seductive, and exciting way. Being closer to the customer is the main thing today, something that waiters and sommeliers have always known, but they need to improve this capacity more and more, being able to lead and anticipate this humanist revolution, in which the relationship and the stories matter more than ever. The cook, on his turn, has to understand the communication role of those who work in the room: we are the sellers of happiness, the storytellers, and those who can seduce the diner.
At El Celler de Can Roca, you run many projects to make the customer experience even more intimate, unforgettable, from service carts to unusual pairings. What projects are you working on now?
We are working on the Ars Natura Liquida project to create spirits and liqueurs - there are more than 50 spirits and liqueurs made in house already. We are also producing a Mediterranean mezcal, the first mezcal made in this region. In partnership with Hario, we are creating our new cart to serve coffees and teas, which is a project that should be in the restaurant in the upcoming months. We are also leading a sensory project with our customers. We already have a study done with more than 200 clients, to strip their sensory and cognitive profiles - to know if they are more visual, olfactory, gustatory, or even synaesthetic. So we can better understand the customer and focus on how we can communicate with them. In the future, our goal is to be able to do this with each client, since they accept to open their tastes to us, of course, through tests. Then we will be able to understand and connect with each one and create a very personalized experience, communicating directly with his emotions, childhood memories, moments of their lives, on a sensory, aromatic and gustatory level. This is the humanist revolution I talk about, in which the relation of the diner with the restaurant will be more intimate, personal, personalized. For this, the experience of the future will be related to the maturity of the cook's ego, the management of humanity of the waiter, and an approach to the emotion of the diner.