Roca’s Rock Istanbul

Roca’s Rock Istanbul

Aylin Öney Tan -
Roca’s Rock Istanbul Passion is the key word. This can be the single word to explain the success of the Roca brothers, Catalonia’s formidable trio behind the legendary El Celler de Can Roca, which was recently selected as the top restaurant in the world in the prestigious San Pellegrino list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Their dedication to their work is amazing. It is a team play for them; Joan is the chef, Jordes the sommelier, Jordi the patisserie chef. They find themselves strongly in power in their homeland of Girona, just north of Barcelona close to the French border, yet they enjoy exploring the world with great enthusiasm, like a child’s first encounter with the outside world. 

The Roca brothers, together with their entire kitchen team, were visiting Istanbul as a part of their Roca & Roll World Tour. This culinary world tour is a three-year project sponsored by the BBVA Spanish Bank Group and hosted in Istanbul by their Turkish partner, Garanti Bank. Though theirs are the most sought-after tables in the world, the restaurant was shut down for five weeks to have the entire kitchen team included in the tour. This is a very honest act; they just do not want to have their place running if they are all absent. They learned this faithfulness to their customers as a family trade; their mother is still cooking herself in their family run restaurant at the age of 78 and their father never skips a day bartending at the age of 83.

Dedication to the restaurant business is in their veins; cooking is a family tradition running in their bloodstreams. 

I sense this passion and dedication the first time I see Joan Roca’s eyes, sparkling with excitement as he gave a talk at the MSA, The Culinary Arts Academy, Istanbul’s leading cooking school. The past week must have been about chasing Roca’s for anybody who’s related to the culinary world in Istanbul. The MSA auditorium is packed with people, mostly students, and the ones who could not squeeze in had to settle for the streamed video in the class next door. He talked slowly but firmly for a full two hours, his statements were truly heartfelt; the crowd was riveted, trying not to miss a single word. His emphasis on learning from the past and tradition and getting inspiration from academia and old cookbooks confirmed my belief in the importance of research into culinary history. Rediscovering the landscape surrounding us and working with botanists to learn the richness nature offers us is a path we all must follow in our own environments. Another lesson learned must be that inspiration can come from anywhere as long as you set your mind free and have an analytic approach. Music, poetry, or even a glass of wine can lead one to create a great dish. That is how Joan and Jordes created those incredible plates inspired from the notes of wines, or how Jordi created his desserts inspired by famous perfume brands. Their attention to detail and utilization of technology was also very thought-provoking. But what affected me most in all the Roca brothers were two essential ingredients any human needs in life: Modesty and a sense of humor. 

Joan’s talk reassured me that though we need to take our jobs very seriously and with firm discipline, we must never take ourselves too seriously and never give up modesty.  Though seriousness in one’s work is a basic ingredient in success, there is a truly essential ingredient in creativeness - a sense of humor. It is the playfulness of this trio that struck me. Later on their last day I managed to get a slot in their busy Istanbul schedule to conduct an interview. When trying to decipher the voice recording after, I noticed that our talk was heavily spiced with giggles and laughter, but that is another story worthy of another article.  But it proved to me one thing: They truly enjoy their work and know how to have fun! A merit I find elusive in most celebrity chefs these days. 

Bite of the Week

Fork of the Week: I adored the potato kokoreç and the green mantı was as refreshing as a summer-breeze. I found the eggplant dish very exciting and their way of cooking lamb flawless, but among all the plate that stole the show must be Jordi’s dessert plate, maybe just because of its name: Turkish Perfume. Veiled behind a cloud of pişmaniye, the play of cinnamon, saffron and cumin tones were delightfully balanced with peaches and pistachios. 

Cork of the Week: Roca dinner started with Vinkara Yaşasın 2013, a sparkly made from Kalecik Karası grapes with Méthode Champenoise, followed by Yeni Rakı, and the dishes were paired with Doluca DLC Sultaniye-Emir 2013, Corvus Vineyard Blend Bianco 2012, Doluca Tuğra, Öküzgözü 2012, Kayra Buzbağ, Öküzgözü & Boğazkere 2008, and for sweets Corvus Passito Vasilaki 2009 and Kavaklıdere Tatlı Sert Narince 2001. Two wines Jordes Roca found particularly interesting were from deep Anatolia:

Tomurcukbağ Reserv Trajan Kalecik Karası 2011, a lovely red from Kalecik near Ankara, and Hasan Dede Antik Küp Şarap 2013 from Gelveri, Cappadocia, a wine made with antique methods in terra cotta amphoras made by Udo Hirsch. He also admitted that he found the local indigenous Kalecik Karası, Öküzgözü and Boğazkere grapes fascinating.