As thunder clouds threateningly rolled towards Downtown Miami’s docked SeaFair yacht and its cocktailing upper deck guests, the vessel’s lower levels prepped their own culinary charge. There the staff of the number-one restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, El Celler de Can Roca, meticulously assembled an 18-course dinner with wine pairings for its southernmost, stateside stop on BBVA’s The Cooking Tour Experience.
At their helm stood gastronomy’s most heralded bloodline – head chef Joan Roca, sommelier Josep Roca and pastry chef Jordi Roca – known conversationally as “the Roca brothers.” Accolades have followed the trio for some time, but their cool-under-pressure demeanor and homegrown approachability would never signal their premier global position. Their epicurean earning seemed more like a collective afterthought; these three are in it for the craft.
Jordi Roca, Joan Roca, and Josep Roca in front of the SeaFair in Downtown Miami — Photo courtesy of FRANCISCO GONZALEZ
BBVA group clients made up the invite-only affair, which took place over two nights and left no seat unaccounted for. Finely executed fare was met with an equally exquisite staff, who carried out the evening with precision, layering their hospitable routine with generous smiles. Servers and hosts graciously outlined each dish to each guest, answering questions about technique and taste with a confidence and appreciation.
Wine glasses never went untopped; water glasses never met luke warmth. It has been reported that El Celler’s staff often outnumbers the patrons visiting the Spanish eatery, a strategy the Rocas believe upholds their overall experience. It's also a factor in why there will never be another El Celler de Can Roca location.
“Many people don’t understand why we don’t want to expand and open new branches of El Celler de Can Roca in other locations, despite the lucrative offers we have received,” says Joan. “Our conclusion, however, is that those new branches would not be authentic. In order for those locations to be a real El Celler de Can Roca, the three brothers and the rest of the team would have to be present.”
And a real El Celler de Can Roca experience is quite the treat, to say the least. Each city on the tour received its own unique dishes and menus, with the Rocas keeping local produce and cultural traditions and influences in mind. “Sourcing logistics were perhaps the most complex aspect of the tour,” confessed Joan. “A group of professionals within our team travels to each city a week in advance in order to have everything ready. Nearly all the products that we use are local, since we want to promote quality local gastronomy.”
"From Argentina to Turkey," featuring five signature bites — Photo courtesy of FRANCISCO GONZALEZ
Once seated, guests were greeted by the tour’s homage appetizer, “From Argentina to Turkey,” featuring five signature bites representing this year’s five stops on the tour. These pillared pops were unveiled in unison inside a retracting paper accordion. Among them were Miami’s citrus fruits with spicy titoté and Birmingham’s crisp shrimp and okra fritter. At first glance, the menu items read too familiar to be extraordinary, but the brother’s excelled at extracting and elevating each flavor, testing the table’s often auto-set boundaries.
The main courses continued the Roca ode to America’s southern anchors and Latin-Caribbean inclinations. Pecans, white rum, mole, and sofrito dotted the Rocas' regional muse map, as dishes like fried green tomatoes and a perfectly crisp suckling pig created oral murmurs around the table. The pig also represents an instance where Josep’s preferred wine inspired the creation of a matching dish; in this case, it was Argentina’s Matías Michelini Vía Revolucionaria Torrontes Brutal 2013.
Suckling pig, inspired by Matías Michelini Vía Revolucionaria Torrontes Brutal 2013 — Photo courtesy of FRANCISCO GONZALEZ
Oenophiles explored a diverse and deeply thought-out selection of pourings. “From Argentina to Turkey” was coupled with Telmo Rodriguez 'El Transistor' 2012 from Spain, which regularly retails internationally for less than $20 a bottle. The final main course, a 72-hour braised beef taco with grilled watermelon that mimicked a pork belly consistency, earned the Miguel Torress Gran Muralles 2009 from Spain, with a retailing average of $111 per bottle.
Details carried over to the desserts as well, opening with Jordi’s most “laborious” creation, the sponge cake ice cream cupcake. “[It] requires very specific conditions temperature-wise,” noted Jordi “and also time and patience. And on many occasions, time isn’t plentiful during the tour.”
The dining gentlemen also received a "Viaje a La Habana," (“A Trip to Havana”) featuring tobacco-flavored chocolate shaped like a cigar and paired with a jelly-like mojito. This visual feat tickled the tastebuds as well; disturbing its assemblage felt criminal, but it was a breach our bellies eventually gave into. The women earned Jordi’s decadently rich but surprisingly light “Chocolate Anarchy,” a display of varying velvety textures adorned with a gold flake. Once service ceased, the brothers returned to the dining room to a thunderous standing ovation and applause.
"A Trip to Havana" – the men's dessert — Photo courtesy of FRANCISCO GONZALEZ
From Miami, the team would flock to Houston, but would not leave without taking a piece of the Magic City with them. BBVA provided scholarships to two students from Miami-Dade College (whose pupils also helped pull off the evening soiree) to intern under the Rocas in Spain, an outreach signature to each tour stop.
The brothers also got a little down time, visiting the Wynwood Arts District and local outposts like Alter and The Wynwood Walls. When asked, the Rocas admitted a Miami return could happen down the line. “Being able to enjoy the view of Miami’s skyline while our patrons were dining was absolutely wonderful,” says Joan.
Highlighted tour plates will also make their way back to Spain. “Similarly to last year, some of the dishes from this 2015 Tour with BBVA will be incorporated into our menu, although we still cannot say which ones,” smiles Joan. And even if a dish doesn’t make the menu cut, the Rocas might just make it exclusively for their curious, well-researched guests. “Sometimes patrons request a dish they’ve heard about, in which case, if possible, we will gladly serve it.”