Joan Roca grew up among pots and pans. He can still recall that aroma of onion slowly sauteeing during the day so that the sofregit sauce would be ready for the next day. Can Roca never closed. Not even for Christmas, when he and his brothers would celebrate the tió – that Catalan tradition of hitting a log until it gives up its treats – alongside the diners in his parents’ restaurant. “It was the most natural thing in the world to us. Ours was a family restaurant, located in a working class neighbourhood in the outskirts of Girona, which was open all hours and to everyone. Our mother was our main source of knowledge, both in terms of recipes and values, which were the most important thing of all. They were values such as humility, solidarity, effort, hard work and authenticity, among many others,” says the chef of El Celler de Can Roca, named the best restaurant in the world on two occasions.
Now, in tribute to this maternal legacy, Roca has written, along with his frequent collaborator and friend Salvador Brugués, a book that has little to do with the technical aspects of cookery, but that pays homage to their mothers – Montse and Maria, respectively – by bringing together simple and traditional recipes that they feel are essential in transmitting what their mothers gifted them: “a love of cooking.”
Roca stresses that Cuina mare (Columna) is a book based on two basic pillars: family and joint effort. It involved his mother, Montserrat, her two grandsons, Martí, Josep Roca’s son, and Marc, Joan’s son, as well as the book’s co-authors. The book offers some 80 recipes that are “free from complications or technical aspects and respect the spirit of the originals that inspired them, so that anyone can cook them at home.”
According to Roca, the book’s recipes are those that the family cooks for itself, both in the family restaurant and at home, and also cover a wide territorial area, from Guilleries in the Llémena valley (where their mothers are from) to the Gironès and Empordà regions. “We reproduced the dishes over the summer and it provided an opportunity to show our children how to cook,” he says.
Recipes and techniques
The book includes three different recipe types: traditional ones with well-established variations, traditional ones adapted to current tastes, and new ones with ingredients not around in their mothers’ day. Also included is a compilation of techniques used in traditional cookery, including sauces that are essential for traditional Catalan cuisine, such as picades, sofregits and escabetx. Always innovating and constantly working, Joan says he is now looking at a 19th-century recipe book he found. We can only wait to see what new project comes out of that.