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Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca is back at number one in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Roca brothers head chef Joan, sommelier Josep and head pastry chef Jordi use traditional Catalan ingredients in ways that are designed to stimulate the senses. Think sheep’s milk ice cream served in a bowl that sounds like a cow bell when tapped with a spoon and with a cone of lambswool essence as accompanying perfume (more on this later).
The 55-seat Girona restaurant, which opened in 1986, had the top spot in 2013, before slipping to number two to Danish restaurant Noma last year.
But it’s been a productive year for the Roca brothers and the trio were in London yesterday to talk about what had achieved in the last 12 months. And believe us, they’ve been busy.
1. They’ve given dessert a whole new dimension
As the world’s best restaurant, you’d expect El Celler de Can Roca to take food to the next level, but how the brothers are experimenting with perfume really is adding a new dimension to their food. At a breakfast meeting in London yesterday, they handed out small paper cones impregnated with essence of lambswool… to go with sheep’s milk ice cream, served in a concave bowl that chimes like a cowbell when you touch it with a spoon. That officially takes pudding to the next level. It’s one of the many experiments that the brothers are hatching at their new research base…
2. Speaking of which, they’ve transformed a farmhouse into an innovation centre
The brothers have established their own innovation and research centre, La Masia I&R, in a farmhouse they have adapted for training and development – football table included. The “I&R’, according to oldest brother Joan, stands for “innovation, interpretation, research, revolution”. Think training courses such as “bottle corks: history and use”, “basics of botany” and “creativity procedure”, alongside experiments for new cooking methods to be used in the restaurant. And for those worried that this might mean an end to the restaurant (see El Bulli), Joan insists that it’s “complementary to El Celler, which will carry on its journey and La Masia will feed into it”.
3.They designed a menu that could be eaten at the top of a mountain…
Youngest brother Jordi trekked the 10th tallest mountain in the world, Annapurna, in Nepal, before the devastating earthquake hit. “I went up using the stairs, not the lift,” says Jordi, who shared personal photos of himself at base camp, in a small group of tents perched on snow. He was on a mission to create meals in pouches that could be rehydrated with hot water to give the explorers quality food at 5,000ft-plus.
The brothers have since launched a helpline for anyone affected by the earthquake.
4. …And while Jordi was there, he made ice cream at 5,000ft.
That’s right. Why not put all that snow to good use? It took 4 hours, but the dessert maestro hard-churned chocolate ice cream until it got dark. That’s the world’s best restaurant’s ice cream on one of the world’s tallest (and most dangerous) mountains. How’s that for a culinary experience?
5. They’ve researched and catalogued more than 800 botanical plants
The brothers use 30 varieties of plants in their restaurant each day, but they are also at the forefront of a ‘gastro-botanical’ project Terra Animada that is cataloguing rare wild species with the aim of reintroducing them into our food systems. That’s a lot of plants.
So what’s next for the Roca brothers? While their catching their breath, thousands of foodies will be picking up the phone and trying to book a table… Good luck!
Photo from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, and onEdition Photography, the official the photographers for 2015.