BY MICHELLE THOMAS
For Jordi Roca, dessert isn’t as simple as a sweet finish to a good meal. As the innovative pastry chef behind his family’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Spain, El Celler de Can Roca, Roca’s known for avant-garde concoctions that play with sensory perceptions, fusing texture, scent, taste, and memory in unexpected ways. (Case in point: One of his creations, The Rainy Forest, distills soil into a clear liquid to evoke childhood nostalgia.) Here, Roca explains how his inventive concepts come to life.
Sous-Vide: What’s it like working with family?
Jordi Roca: I feel very fortunate to work with my two brothers. We share the same inherited passion for gastronomy. But at the same time, each of us adds a particular point of view or discipline. Joan is the “savory mind,” the chef. Josep is the “liquid mind,” the wine master. And I’m the “sweet mind”—closing the triangle. Creating like this is so rich and playful. For us, the restaurant is literally a way of life.
SV: When did you know you wanted to be a pastry chef, and how did you train for it?
JR: My training started in an amateurish way, nothing academic. I was taught by Damian Allsop, a talented Welsh pastry chef who ran the pastry area of El Celler de Can Roca at the end of the ’90s. He helped me open my mind, and my curiosity. That’s when I saw my chance to create and fly. Until then, I’d never stopped to amuse myself, to dream, or to provoke surprise with my creativity. I’ve been addicted to sweet entertainment for over 15 years now. I feel an absolute need to express my life in a sweet way.
SV: Your desserts inspired by designer perfumes are incredibly creative. How did you come up with the idea?
JR: I will always remember that day. A friend who sells fruits and plants sent some boxes of bergamot to the restaurant. The fragrance of this little-known citrus fruit filled our noses. My brother Josep was convinced that the aroma of this fruit was present in Eternity by Calvin Klein and, after researching its composition, we confirmed it. That’s when we got an idea: Put together all the ingredients from this fragrance in one dish so that they could be eaten, not just smelled. Vanilla cream, orange blossom gelée, a basil sauce, a maple syrup jelly, tangerine slush, and bergamot ice cream are the ingredients included in Eternity, the dessert.
SV: How has sous vide helped you turn inspirations like perfumes, moods, and personal memories into desserts?
JR: Sous vide cuisine helps us obtain the purest aromas from distillations, much like the aromas we obtain with the Rota Val rotary evaporator, a lab device adapted for the kitchen that acts as a still or alembic. Sous vide’s lowered heating temperatures create the purest aromas, matching more closely to the genuine ingredient. Some of the edible aromas we have built using this technique are wood, forest soil, or old book.
SV: What’s your process for inventing a new dessert? What inspires you?
JR: A walk, a landscape, a smell, a story, a sound, a transgression, an emotion—any path can lead us to creativity. Freedom and freshness. Radicalism and extremism. I love playing with the limits and breaking rules. As a pastry chef, I explore my world away from the rigor and seriousness of the entrées. I like to surprise at the last moment. Everything inspires.