At the beginning of August, The Roca Brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi, closed their El Celler De Can Roca restaurant in Girona, Spain, and asked their entire team to go on tour with them. An adventure around the world, Houston, Dallas, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, The Roca’n Roll tour - the first of it’s kind, a restaurant without an address, chefs without borders.
It marked the beginning of a new kind of trend in the world of the chef. Rene Redzepi taking Noma and his team to Japan, Heston Blumenthal taking The Fat Duck to Australia, Grant Achatz taking Alinea from Chicago to New York, asking all the time: “why does a restaurant need to have a permanent address?”.
By this measure, can we now assume they're the new rock stars? No, in simple terms, they’re just not. They don’t have throngs of screaming fans waiting to hi-jack them at the airport, they don’t get the big fat royalty checks awarded to gods of rock and they certainly don’t - if the Roca’s are anything to go by - throw television sets off balconies, pick up groupies or live anywhere near the rock-n-roll lifestyle attached to bands like, lets say, The Stones.
Instead, and perhaps more importantly, these tours signify a number of shifts in the profession. One is the globalisation of the chef, their restaurant and their brand. Largely thanks to media, events and the internet, chefs now have audiences in far-flung corners of the globe - an important consideration if you want a sell out tour. The other is a change in the attitude of the chefs themselves. No longer content to hide in the kitchen, chefs are keen to spread a message, deliver their plates direct to tables, present research and ideas at conferences and events around the world. Ready to discover new and exciting things about the ingredients of a new culture, to constantly learn and present this knowledge on the plate - chefs are stepping away from the boundaries of their own kitchen, understanding that real change can be effected through their presence in places way beyond the old restaurant remit.
All of the above lies within the challenges of something like a gruelling world tour or restaurant relocation. They’ve worked hard to develop their ideas, they have this captive, international audience, why not spread the love? Share it with the world. This is the exciting trend to watch out for in 2014 and 2015.
I caught up with The Roca Brother’s on the penultimate night of their trip. A tough roster of 100-cover-a-night dinners, ending in Peru, before their immediate return to Girona to reopen El Celler De Can Roca. They’ve created new menus in each country they visited, picked up hundreds of local students to cook with them and created way over 10,000 plates of food, here’s what they had to say about the experience.
How has the tour been for you?
Joan: "It is a very positive sensation we have. Being the first time a restaurant takes a trip on a tour, it is what we have lived and learnt what makes the impact. What we have tasted and cooked has been a full immersion in rich and inspiring cultures. It has also met the ideal we had previous to the trip, which was opening our eyes and mind, travelling with our team and sharing the knowledge with them. We now know for sure this will be a milestone in the restaurant´s evolution."
Josep: "It is an extraordinary chance for us to grow, to improve and to get inspiration; also to learn the recognition / vindication that each culture make through their cuisine."
Jordi: "The experience of living the trip not only towards the outside but mainly to the inside ; it has been revealed as a self-growing journey for the whole team that will make us be stronger."
What was the hardest part?
Josep: "The logistics of moving 35 people in different countries to be able to serve meals/dinners to 2,000! We had to be aware of the difficulties of so many allies : producers, ingredients, timing, local traditions, etc."
Jordi: "The challenge for us was to interpret the cuisine of each country, understanding the full meaning of traveling. For us it didn’t have any meaning to prepare one unique menu for the whole of South America, and so we decided to take an immersion on each place to learn the most from everything and everyone."
Joan: "It is the logistics, of course. Having to prepare the trips and itinerary, the person we had to send in advance to do the mise-en-place, the contact with the local chefs to get their support."
Do you feel like a rock star?
Jordi: "No (chuckles) ; I guess you could say there are plenty of similar things with the tours the bands make. Actually, we are introducing ourself to the public with a Rolling Stones track at the lectures we are giving on the tour."
Joan: "(Laughs) Even the tour seems a bit alike, we're chefs and committed to our profession."
If you were a rock band, which one would you be?
Josep: "Well, The Rolling Stones. Stones (Roca) is our surname, and we also have the same concept of full satisfaction from what we do; I love the graphic icon of the red tongue."
What’s been the most fun part?
Jordi: "For me, and i think for everyone the same, the funniest part has been travelling together. 35 people from our team at the Celler in Girona. This has made us live like a family, we've been through special moments together. Each city we visited allowed us to have a first day in a calm mood and enjoy a collective dinner, meeting the locals and having lots of fun. This close touch to my team has been very intimate and special."
Joan: "Besides living the trip both on a personal and professional side, what I highlight more is the complicity we achieved. On this tour, we have all worked in the different roles ( waiters helping the mise-en-place and chefs supporting the maitres). I am sure we will all remember and appreciate each other's roles more now."
Josep: "The fascinated looks of the culinary schools students that we saw ; They see an inspiration in something strange and new to them, and this causes an intense emotion to us. Partly because of the social responsibility we feel, part on what we have called “High cuisine in values”. The cooking schools are the most fulfilling sensation because you project the future in them."
Any tastes you didn’t like?
Josep: "Not really; here the most scary is the spicy touch and the culture of eating animal's entrails, which i personally love ( liver, kidney and heart ). I never feel strange with these flavours because they've got a great taste in cooking them."
Joan: "Not really, I like to try everything."
Jordi: "In the market of Colombia i got to try (… he thinks deep ..) a stew made of the beef´s womb / uterus, which was good but … It's a very cultural issue ( Laughs)."
Most important things to take back to Girona with you?
Joan: "I am sure there will be many, as always we take so many lessons from our travels. It does always eventually appear on our plates, but I cannot say when or where it will be."
Jordi: "We've learned techniques and cooking methods, with products we had never imagined before the tour. The perception with which cooking is seen as a worldwide matter: specially we have found plenty of similarities between the typical recipes of each place (Mx, Colombia) compared to our traditions. For example we found a Colombian stew very similar to the Catalan escudella."
Josep: "Our objective was to take as little wine and ingredients with us as we could; In México, I made a big immersion into the Mezcal tradition, visiting distilleries in Oaxaca and also checking the different types of agave. Also using local drinks like Mexican pulque, an old fashioned drink now in trend. In Colombia I used Chilean and Argentinian wines, and then in Peru, of course, i tried to show that Pisco can go much further than Pisco Sour and sweet associations, because it has a great quality. Also we've discovered two treasure wines : Quebrada de Iguanco , no sulphites, very honest wine & a Mistela from 1999 which was first presented here with our dinner."