You Roca brothers recently made a commitment to continue for at least another 10 years.
We look forward to continuing. During the lockdown each of us was at home with our family. We’d never spent so much time apart. We talked about it and decided to go on for at least another decade.
As you’re younger than your brothers, do you see the management of the restaurant falling to you at some point?
They are very active, and we come from a family that never stops. It’s hard to imagine them quitting overnight. It’s what they’ve always done and they love it. And they wouldn’t know what else to do. Pitu is having the time of his life with the new line of spirits. He’s living a second youth, and instead of buying a Porsche, he buys more and more wines. Joan is about to leave for Tokyo with some chef friends. He loves travelling and learning about cultures. In the future I see them becoming more involved in our academy but they will never quit.
And where do your nephews fit in El Celler de Can Roca?
Martí, Pitu’s son, is in the restaurant’s kitchen making starters. And Marc, Joan’s son, is at Mas Marroch in charge of the meat. They are adapting very well. To me they seem very motivated and eager to learn.
In a sentence how would you define El Celler de Can Roca?
It’s hard to condense everything we do into one sentence, but I’d say it’s a fun and friendly restaurant, but that at the same time gives people an experience that is more than just a restaurant.
In what sense do you say that?
Customers book months in advance and before they come they find out all about what we do. The Internet means that the surprise factor is gone, but I believe that having prior information accentuates the restaurant experience. It’s like what happens with the opera. Customers come well prepared and you see that means they enjoy the meal in a much deeper way. This also creates pressure on us, because people come from the other side of the world who have booked a year ago and have very high expectations. But we also appreciate seeing that they have prepared so much for the visit and come with such desire and determination to have a good time.
You have a reputation for sensible business not always seen in haute cuisine.
Everyone does what they can with what they have. Maintaining a restaurant like this is difficult, and we supplement it with other businesses that give us the financial peace of mind to continue. My father always expects crises. He is very cautious and we’ve inherited this quality. We have been lucky to still be here and hopefully we will continue for a long time. This restaurant model requires constancy, commitment and a solid team, which is something we have been able to maintain.
You are also pioneers in offering fair conditions to your staff, in an industry in which marathon shifts are the order of the day.
We anticipated changes. The year we toured the US, we had six couples in the team who all of a sudden had babies. The team demanded more time off, and so we had to change how we did things. We made two brigades, which at the time was unheard of in a restaurant of this type. And we have maintained the two brigades by providing the team with living and working conditions that help make it solid and stable.
These are the types of changes that, since the pandemic, the industry has been insistently demanding.
The pandemic has changed everything. Many restaurants struggle to find staff willing to work. All over the world. My brother was in Toronto recently and the dining room of the hotel where he was staying didn’t serve breakfast because they didn’t have the staff to do it. This is happening more and more and so we have to ensure the well-being of the staff. People should want to work in the hospitality industry because they want to, not out of necessity.
You seem the most uninhibited of the Roca brothers. You can see your sense of humour on social media and also in your desserts.
Diners come here feeling hungry and when they start eating they want to feel full, but by the time the dessert arrives they are feeling relaxed. They are then ready to hear a funny story, which for me is an opportunity to play and experiment. You can’t do that during the first part of the meal.
Having fun is important to you.?
We have a great time and we love and respect each other a lot. We balance each other out. Joan is wise and cautious, and likes to think things through a lot, maybe sometimes too much. Pitu is the romantic, poetic, philosophical, sensitive and empathetic. He doesn’t care about money and never sees any problems anywhere. And I’m the disruptive one. I have a theory that my parents didn’t get it right until the third time [laughs].
The family is of great importance in El Celler, including the women.
Our household is a matriarchy. It’s a family with strong and driven women. Our wives are independent, and this gives us freedom to be at El Celler to perform our creative role. The female figure has been a point of reference for us since childhood, beginning with our mother and our aunts who worked in Can Roca. Our wives have bravely taken on this responsibility. And it’s not easy to come into a business with a figure at its head like our mother, who sacrificed so much.
There are many anecdotes about El Celler. Can you share one?
When we still did banquets at La Torre de Can Roca, Pep Noguer, who was then the head chef, pretended to be the priest at a wedding that took place in the same establishment. The real priest dropped out at the last minute and Joan told Pep that, since he had an ecclesiastical posture, he was the most suitable to officiate the ceremony. We dressed him in black, gave him a text to read, and he did a fake ceremony that fortunately wasn’t recorded anywhere.