Header images: Josep Roca and El Celler de Can Roca
After winning The Ferrari Trento Art of Hospitality Award for El Celler de Can Roca, co-owner and sommelier Josep Roca tells us what great hospitality means for his family.
There are few sommeliers in the world who can talk wine with quite the same passion, sensitivity and depth as Josep Roca. For the middle of the three brothers behind El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, sharing his world is second nature; Josep is one third of a gastronomic trio, with hospitality running in his blood. And yet he considers the word ‘sommelier’ too grandiloquent – he prefers to refer to himself as a waiter. And therein lies the essence of the two-time No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: a humble, family-learned approach to hospitality that can only come from the heart.
For Josep Roca, hospitality is either sincere or it isn’t. That’s how he was taught, as a child, at Can Roca, the nearby bar that is still run by his parents, and where he grew up with his brothers, Joan, the chef-owner of El Celler de Can Roca and Jordi, the pastry chef.
“The bar was the social hub of a close-knit workers’ neighbourhood,” he says. “It was a place where people would meet and play; where schoolkids would do their homework while others danced amid the clouds of tobacco smoke and smells from the kitchen.”
The Growing Up in a Bar course of snacks at El Celler de Can Roca tells the story of the Roca childhood
It was a happy childhood, a family existence, where the door of the bar was always open. Like any child growing up in a restaurant or bar, Josep remembers it through a series of smells: “the raw meat my father peppered and pounded by hand and with which my mother made sausages; the burnt sugar that my grandmother Angeleta prepared for our flans; the sacks of onions, the five cubes of potatoes I used to peel every day.”
While eldest son Joan took an interest in the kitchen, Josep memorised every label of every bottle behind his parents’ bar, closing his eyes and taking himself on a journey via the containers of vermouths and bitters. All three brothers would return from school and take on whatever task was asked of them that day.
“Our parents taught us some priceless lessons,” says Josep. “They taught us to be rigorous and demanding, to compromise and make sacrifices and they taught us about responsibility. Above all, they taught us the values of hospitality and generosity.”
Those values have helped them win The Ferrari Trento Art of Hospitality Award, something for which the brothers feel proud and thankful. “It is recognition for our wonderful dining room,” says Josep. “We’re also happy because we’ve completed the magic triangle with these individual awards – Jordi was voted The World’s Best Pastry Chef [in 2014] and Joan won the Chefs’ Choice Award [in 2016].”
Jordi Roca (left) and Joan Roca with Camilla Lunelli, Communication and PR Director of Ferrari Trento
Although his brothers’ awards are individual ones, the latest accolade is one for the whole team, Josep says. “It’s about the dining room and reception team and the attitude in the kitchen, which is completely committed to the idea of looking after people. In the kitchen, we say that to cook is to care, and in the dining room, to serve is to love.”
Josep smiles when he says that three is the magic number for El Celler de Can Roca. The restaurant strives for creativity and the avant-garde and the brothers are hoping for a hat-trick as No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The restaurant pushed Noma from the top spot in 2013 before ceding to it in 2014; the following year, they triumphantly returned to No.1, to be pipped to the post by Osteria Francescana in 2016. Now, in 2017, El Celler de Can Roca sits at No.3, after Osteria Francescana and the new World’s Best Restaurant, Eleven Madison Park.
“We’ll keep on pushing to claim back the top spot,” says Josep. “The first year, Joan went up on stage to collect the trophy on his own. The second year, I went up, and we are stubbornly persisting for the day when Jordi goes up to collect the third one. To be recognised as No.1 twice is an achievement comparable to winning two Oscars, but since we’re three brothers, we’re missing one. We won’t give up on that goal.”
Joan, Josep and Jordi on stage in 2015 after being crowned No.1 for the second time
Josep says the world of wines and the dining room move so quickly that he and his team have to be constantly willing to learn. He knows that in a restaurant, a simple word or gesture – a smile or an almost imperceptible movement – is charged full of emotion. “You have to be competent emotionally and socially. We believe in the power of communication and the will to keep on learning. We just love the world of restaurants.”
El Celler de Can Roca
Calle Can Sunyer 48
+34 972 222 157
The Ferrari Trento Art of Hospitality Award was introduced in 2016 in collaboration with the Italian winery to celebrate the outstanding work of front-of-house and service teams at the world’s finest restaurants. The category is voted for by the same body of 1,040 worldwide voters that makes up The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, and the first winner of the award was Eleven Madison Park in New York.