When the three Roca brothers — Joan, Josep, and Jordi, of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain — were informed in 2013 that their restaurant had been voted number one in the world, they did something drastic. After nearly 30 years of pushing to be recognized with top honors by the international dining community, they decided that for five weeks in the second half of 2014, they would close their doors and go on a world tour. They dubbed the extensive worldwide pop-up the Roca and Roll Tour, which hit cities in the United States, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia for member-exclusive glimpses into their world-renowned kitchen. Now back for another go in 2015 as the Cooking Tour Experience, the tour travels to Miami this week, and the brothers have a mix of Latin American flavors on their minds.
"For Miami to attract such culinary giants is a great feat for us as a city. I think it puts us on the foodie map, as we should be," said Roberto Muñoz, president of BBVA South Florida, the Spanish banking giant that’s helping fund the tour. As part of a news conference yesterday at the Seafair yacht docked near the InterContinental Hotel, where the two-night-only dinners will take place, Muñoz presented the brothers and said he was proud to have such talent on the premises.
"In recent years, we have brought art from Spain and Argentina to the United States as part of our world tour of information gathering. Currently, we have a three-year contract with the Roca brothers — that brings a different sort of artist here. These are internationally acclaimed culinary artists,” Muñoz stated, eager to promote the chefs and their work, as well as his brand, which has had a stake in Miami since 2012.
Corporate sponsorship aside, the brothers — head chef Joan, sommelier Josep, and beloved pastry chef Jordi — see the tour as a welcome challenge. "We have always refused the possibility of opening another Celler de Can Roca in another part of the world. We were open to going on a tour and getting out of our comfort zone," Joan said when asked about the challenges of such an endeavor. "Each week we're in another city. It’' a fascinating challenge. It pushes us to do something creative, to pull from the local larder in each place. It gives us a chance to immerse ourselves in the local culture and cuisine and, in a way, to start from scratch."
Diners, or rather exclusive BBVA members lucky enough to be invited to the dinners, which will take place tonight and tomorrow night, will have a chance to taste the Rocas’ cuisine, as seen through a local lens. "Here in Miami, we're going to have a dessert called 'Journey to Havana.' It’s a cigar-shaped chocolate with flavors of tobacco smoke," said Jordi, the pastry genius, always aiming to have a little fun. The North American leg of their tour will hit Miami, Birmingham, and Houston, showcasing local ingredients and culture in each menu.
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The tour, though, for the publicity that it will garner the three brothers, isn’t merely a media stunt. Two students each from Miami Culinary Institute and Culinard in Birmingham, Alabama, will be awarded four-month scholarships allowing them to travel to Girona and immerse themselves in the kitchen at El Celler de Can Roca. “[The tour] gives us the chance to connect with chefs, to go to cooking schools and teach, and to give out two scholarships and to bring students to Girona for four months to train,” said Joan, eager to show off the fruits of his native Spain to hungry young minds.
As for the chefs, they’re already enjoying the Magic City. "Miami is fantastic, an incredible city. It's a fusion of all of Latin America in one place," said Jordi, the youngest of the three brothers, who arrived a few months ago to scout locations. So far, they've dined at Juvia and with chef James Tahhan at Sabores, where they "ate really well," according to sommelier brother Josep.
There is no word on whether the tour will swing back into the United States next year or double up in Miami, as it has the past two years in Houston. The brothers are intrigued by the region, though. Talking about their Cuban-inspired dessert, they said they’d love to head to Cuba. "For our next trip, we'll have to go there. It'd be great, no? In place of wines, rum. Do a whole tasting of rums. We'll get a boat," the three chattered among themselves, laughing together as only brothers can.