El Celler de Can Roca is a restaurant in Girona, Catalonia, Spain, which was opened in 1986 by the Roca Brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi. It has been received warmly by critics, and holds three Michelin stars. In 2013, it was named the best restaurant in the world by the magazine,Restaurant, after having been ranked second in 2011, 2012 and 2014. In 2015, it was once again named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant. In this interview one of the Roca brothers, Josep, who is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, speaks on the family business and why he is in Nigeria
What gave you the urge to take up the challenge in the industry?
It is our responsibility, as an ambassador working with others organizations, to fight for food security. Working with the organization has been fun. When they asked us where we would like to start working, we said we would love to start from the African continent. And we thought we should start with Nigeria, Kaduna to be precise, where there are so much opportunities.
As a goodwill ambassador,are you yet to start what brought you to Nigeria or you are waiting to come into the market?
Due to our international recognition, we have been to many places around the world, but we are not here to open a new restaurant or franchise. We have many in other cities of the world, like New York, Paris, Singapore, etc. We are here as part of the UN Goodwill Ambassadors. And what we are looking for is how we could look for inspiration in other countries’ cuisines, to open our astronomic portfolio. And with the society and people recognizing our impact on the society, we want to know how our ability could help in putting or helping better the social welfare of the people. We are delighted to help and continue to strengthen the courage of the people. Also to make possible ways to provide food security for the people
You are world renowned, appearing on the UK television series,MasterChef.Would you groom some Nigerian chefs who are looking up to you in the industry to at least come to Europe and represent Africa? And how would you impart your expertise in this industry on our Nigerian chefs?
First of all, our priority is to develop the project, Food Africa, improving the production of the produce in Kaduna in particular and helping also to preserve and conserve the food waste. Especially, some high percentage of food production in Kaduna is lost, like tomatoes. There is no such technology to help reduce food loss. And we are also looking at possible new market for the food produced in Kaduna. This is our first priority at the moment: to work in every area, and of course, we are open to work with the head of Nigeria, in Abuja, in Lagos and other parts of the country, to support our effort for Nigerian cuisine to be known all over the world. We are here with the intention to help,and they need to listen to us, by doing that we know. We are doing something which is part of our ethical calling.
As the youngest of the three brothers, and with your restaurant which had been open on the site since 1968, did you people foresee your fame going around the globe as it has today?What’s the magic behind your rise to the top today?
We were born in the kitchen and also raised in a small bar. Our neighbourhood and restaurant are situated in a place always used for welcoming people and immigrants. And these were the mission our parents taught us since we were children. The lesson of our parents was always of hospitality and generosity, and perhaps this is the reason why we are here. We have moved from a small bar and restaurant in an area of social exclusion to our new restaurant which is our factory of dreams, where people from all over the world come to visit. Out of the last 10,000 customers, we have people from over 55 countries coming in to visit us.
You mentioned that your parents were a great influence in your coming into this cuisine business; how much has that affected your growing up and bringing in your brothers to make a team to create this amazing restaurant business?
Our parents taught us that if we wanted to go into this business, we must know much about generosity and hospitality. We are three brothers. We have three different heads and minds. Josep’s head is the liquid mind; Joan is the savoury mind and Jordi, the discrete. These are three roles that came together to make a singular restaurant that is very unique in the world.
‘El Celler de Can Roca’ has been praised by fellow chefs as one of the top restaurants in Europe and the world in general. You have also been rated very highly by the New York Times. The Michelin Guide describes the type of cuisine your outfit produces as simply creative. How would you best describe the kind of cuisine produced by El Celler de Can Roca and how does it feel to see that three brothers are responsible for this great innovation that has held the number one spot as the best restaurant in the world 2015?
Probably due to innovation, creativity, as you have mentioned, which has brought the three brothers together in a restaurant; that has done something very surprising. The restaurant was created and located in a place of social exclusion. It’s a place which has not only seen great strength in technological innovative but creative strength in the input of quality raw materials used in the preparations of the cuisines. The place has rich cultural strength in cuisine and astronomic sceneries. Our restaurant has probably the strength of making cuisine of emotions, innovation and growth.
You are head of wine, and wine goes with cuisines. So what inspires that crazy love for preparation of wine?
The wines in our restaurants talk more about our emotions, something that’s in our DNAs. It is one that is very playful, unique and intellectual. The similarity between wine and food is that they go hand in hand. The food and wine are representations of the landscape in the country and the environment we belong to. We do dishes from different perspectives and it helps in inspiring in writing of books, technological, inventions, creativity, etc. To me that’s the magic.
What’s your perception of the Sahara brand since you came in contact with?
Our first perception when we met Tony and his company is that everything he does, he made sure talents were involved. And from our own point of view, he created social reality to the Nigerian culture. Before we started this project, we met and discussed how to start this private sector innovation, because this is a very innovative project whereby the federal government , the Kaduna State government and private sectors are coming together to address the challenges of food security, access to jobs, especially for young men and women. From that moment we knew that his effort is key and the Sahara Group is also important in changing a lot in the country, especially with his philanthropic experience. We are happy to be working with the Sahara Group and the United Nations Department for Sustainable Goals.
I don’t know if this is your first time in Nigeria, but have you tasted any of our local cuisines?And if you haven’t, are you ready to taste any and which one are you taking back home?
Ahh! I have tasted lots, like akara, fura, abacha, Tom Brown, kilishi, chin chin, kola nuts, suya, and many others.