One of The Best Chefs in the World Lands…

Legendary Spanish chef Jordi Roca brings three-star Michelin elegance to the metro area

It’s rare to meet someone who is universally acknowledged to be one of the best in the world at their chosen profession. It’s surprising when that person is as kind, down to earth, and funny as Chef Jordi Roca. He is one of three brothers, along with Joan and Josep, who are the creative masterminds behind El Celler de Can Roca, a legendary three-star Michelin restaurant located in Girona, Spain. Known for gastronomically expanding the minds of even the most jaded connoisseur, the three brothers are revered for approaching food with a level of playfulness and creativity that is almost unrivaled in the culinary world. Restaurant Magazine has named El Celler de Can Roca“The Best Restaurant in the World”, and awarded Chef Jordi with the designation of the “World’s Best Pastry Chef.”

This week, Chef Jordi’s culinary tour—sponsored by BBVA Compass—stopped in Denver. Between hosting two impossible-to-get-into private dinners at Departure and looking for new inspirations for his restaurant, Chef Jordi stopped by Metro State University to give a lecture for some of their top culinary students. As part of Chef Jordi’s Denver visit, 12 students were chosen from Metro to help prep for the private dinners. Based on their performance, two lucky students will be chosen for a prestigious internship at El Celler de Can Roca. (Editors Note: The two winners were Brandon Hart from ACF Colorado Chefs Association and Eosther Fajardo-Anstine from MSU-Denver, congrats to both of them.) 

Associate professor, chef, and all-around-nice-guy Jackson Lamb told me that the bank has been putting on these tours in cities around the world, and when Metro was approached they jumped at the chance. “To be able to be a part of a 10-course meal paired with 10 wines, most of our students don’t get to experience something like this. But also the dangling carrot is that of the 12 students I selected to be part of this dinner, two will be invited to come back to Girona, Spain. They will do a four-month all expenses paid internship, sponsored by BBVA.”

I caught up with the chef, and despite losing his voice and having to rely on a translator, was kind enough to sit down for a chat.

Chef Jordi with his translator, Photo Courtesy of Metro State

DiningOut: I know sometimes people in Denver struggle with baking at altitude, as a master pastry chef are there any tips you have for us?

Chef Roca: We’ve traveled all over the world, and it becomes important that you have to adapt to the conditions. I would actually say that a positive aspect of Denver is the low humidity. For many desserts, the flavor is intensified during the preparation in a low humidity environment.

Sometimes in elite, three-star Michelin restaurants, there is a very serious tone to everything. Your food is so playful and there’s humor to the dishes. Why do you think that is important?

I think it’s absolutely crucial to have a good time when you are working in this field. In fact, when I’m devising a new dish, I immediately think of the diner and what their reaction will be to the food. If I’m able to transmit that humor and nuance, that’s actually what keeps me going. Regardless of what you’re doing, it’s imperative to have a good time.

ROCA Cooking Tour by BBVA, Photo by Adam Larkey

When you are relaxing with your family, what do you like to eat? What is comfort food for you?

Actually, my wife is from Mexico, and anytime we visit her family or when her family comes to Girona, we eat Mexican food which is something that I love. We make corn tortillas, quesadillas, and fantastic tacos. It is something I really enjoy.

In Spain and all over Europe there has always been a commitment to local ingredients. What are your thoughts about the American food culture as both restaurants and consumers have embraced those types of food?

I think that it is fantastic because it has an influence at all levels. For instance, when you source locally it also impacts energy consumption, because you don’t need as much energy to transport food from another country. Another positive aspect is that sourcing local products can create a much more wholesome sense of community when you’re using a local supplier, and people have that sense of ownership and community. The other very important thing is that when you source locally, you respect seasonality, and that is actually what is best for our bodies.

Chef Jordi in Class, Photo Courtesy of Metro State

Your restaurant is very famous for bringing in people of different backgrounds like scientists and artists to collaborate with. As a chef, what do you learn from people who exist outside the food world?

It’s actually really helpful when we work with specialists from other disciplines because they help us look at life, not just gastronomy, from a different point of view. Looking at things through a different lens is what has enabled us to think of new ideas that would have been impossible if we had remained confined to a kitchen. It has expanded our potential in terms of creating new ideas.

Have you tried any restaurants in Denver?

We tried Acorn, which was delicious.

What is it like working with your brothers?

To us, it’s such a normal thing, we’ve always worked together. To us, it’s strange that people who have siblings don’t work together (Chef Jordi throws back his head and laughs).

Peter Gietl