INTERVIEW : Josep Roca, Sommelier at El Celler de Can Roca, Girona

El Celler de Can Roca is ranked as one of the Worlds Best Restaurants. It held onto the Number 1 spot for two consecutive years and currently sits at Number 2, just below the amazing Chef Massimo Bottura’s restaurant Osteria Francescana in Italy.

El Celler is a creative foodie powerhouse owned and run by three brothers, Joan the chef, Josep, the sommelier, and Jordi, the pastry chef.

CineCuisine, a film strand first for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, featured the documentary Chef’s Diaries: Scotland which follows world-famous Spanish chefs the Roca Brothers on their successful quest to find the best food that Scotland can offer for use in their Michelin starred restaurant El Celler de Can Roca.

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The documentary was shown over the weekend and I posed some questions to Sommelier Josep Roca.

Q1 : Scotland has no wine as such but what other drinks besides whisky have you discovered in Scotland that might make it back to El Celler or provide inspiration for a dish or a liqueur?

I haven’t yet acquired a taste for Irn-bru or Bouvrage, but I’m interested in blackcurrant, all of the ales and beers, and obviously whisky.

Q2: Girona, Catalonia has an abundance of food and drink, as does Scotland. More and more of our restaurants are sourcing locally and using seasonal produce but it’s still very important to draw inspiration from around the world. What is the one dish that you have discovered in Scotland that you would be able to re-create with a Roca twist?

We’ve travelled round Scotland and have been fascinated by its wealth of produce, from both the sea and land. We’ve realised that much of this produce reaches our restaurant via Galicia and there also are traditional dishes very similar to haggis in the Vall Fosca (‘Dark Valley’) in the Pyrenees where they make a Catalan sausage called girella. Our trips to Scotland have inspired an aperitif that we serve in the restaurant as a tribute to Scottish cuisine from deepest Catalonia. We’ve also been inspired to find ways of working with salmon beyond merely the middle and bottom back of the fish but also using other parts such as the belly and the cheeks.

Q3 : El Celler excels at front of house management. What is your secret?

We think of every contact with someone as an opportunity to enhance their life. We know that we have to look after our in-house team because they’re our internal customers who look after our external customers. We also strongly believe that few things consolidate warmth more than a restaurant dining room, and the people who visit us want not just to eat well but also to be taken care of and listened to.

Q4 : Gastronomy is changing – although there is still a strong food emphasis it’s very much about the whole dining experience for the guest. How would you go about creating the ultimate dining experience?

One of the challenges going forward is to bring sustainability, ecological awareness and the emotional revolution to vanguard cuisine, putting the customer at the heart of the experience. Knowing their life story can help us understand how we can better reach their emotions through what they eat and drink.

Q5 : Alcohol and food pairings have been around for a long time. As a sommelier do you think we should stick with wine and food pairings or do you or do you like to mix it up?

Glory freedom! Everybody should drink what they want and think is best, but depending on their cultural habits we know that some values and customs will be steadfast, like the culture of wine in the Mediterranean. We like researching and at El Celler de Can Roca we’ve also created our own drinks made in our restaurant in our Ars Natura Líquida project: wines made from fruits, cherries, peach, plum…and spirits and liqueurs that distil our immediate surroundings with over 50 different proposals that allow us to offer a much broader array of pairings.

Q6 : What does the future hold for El Celler de Can Roca?

As long as we have energy, health and passion we’ll keep going in the trade of learning and receiving to be able to take care of people through hospitality and generosity. We know that these are important values for the people who visit us.

El Celler de Can Roca opened in Girona, Spain, in 1986 and has held three Michelin stars since 2009. Thank you to EIFF and to Josep Roca for their time and allowing me to pose these questions to one of the world’s best Sommeliers!

My Interview with Chef Joan Roca - click here