"We have an 11-month wait list right now," said chef Joan Roca apologetically when I inquired about dining at his restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca. Ranked among the top five restaurants in the world for six years consecutive years by Restaurant magazine, El Cellar de Can Roca reached the number one spot in 2013. Located outside of Girona, it is one of just seven three-star Michelin restaurants in Spain. It has fifty seats and receives approximately 3,000 email inquiries per day to fill them.
And this August, the whole entire restaurant is coming to Houston. Yes, Houston.
Roca, who was in Houston yesterday to announce details surrounding his upcoming culinary tour, said that the idea of closing down the entire restaurant to go on tour is something that's never been done before. In a press conference held at the Art Institute of Houston, where he also conducted a culinary master class yesterday morning, he said that his colleagues thought the idea crazy.
"We have received numerous offers to open our restaurant in other parts of the world," Roca said in Spanish, which was translated by chef and Food Network star Ingrid Hoffman. "But we don't believe in the concept of opening another place, being there for a week, and heading back to our home and our restaurant in Girona. The only option is to close down the restaurant and take the entire restaurant on tour -- to travel with our entire team (approximately 30 people total) and recreate the whole restaurant experience."
Dubbed the "Roca World Tour," Roca and his brothers, Jordi and Josep, plan to close their restaurant for five weeks while they take their restaurant on the road late this summer. The tour is being sponsored by financial services firm BBVA Compass, which has entered into a three-year partnership with El Celler de Can Roca.
"As part of a global bank, we're drawn to endeavors that transcend boundaries -- cultural, linguistic and, in this case, gastronomic," said BBVA Compass Chairman and CEO Manolo Sánchez. "The Rocas are universal in their approach to food -- bringing together tradition and modernity among other unlikely pairs -- and we honor that spirit with this tour."
"In August, the Roca brothers will take their award-winning restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, on the road, traveling all the way from Girona, Spain to Houston, and Dallas, and then to Mexico and South America for a four-country world tour," Sánchez announced during the press conference. "In each country, the chefs will create private, multi-course dinners exclusively for BBVA clients."
"I am excited to announce that the tour will launch here in Houston, home to a vibrant culinary scene, where the Rocas will serve 300 dinners over three days, and then move to Dallas for 200 dinners over two days. It will then proceed to Mexico, Colombia and Peru."
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In addition to the world tour, BBVA Compass is making it possible for four culinary students -- two from Houston, and two from Dallas --to apprentice under the Roca brothers in Girona.
"We consider it critical to support talent, and we want to help the next generation of chefs explore their skills and develop confidence in a collaborative environment," Roca said. "Every year, more than 400 people apply to study in our training program and we are looking forward to working with the students from Texas." The scholarships will include airfare and housing for four months in Girona, Spain, as well as training at Spain's Autónoma University of Barcelona.
BBVA Compass Executive Vice President J. Reymundo Ocanas, who also spoke at the press conference, said: "The aim is to boost local talent, and for the young chefs to be recognized and valued for their work, and to see their dreams come true. We're proud to invest in these young aspiring chefs lives, helping each of them achieve their gastronomic dream."
After the press conference, a cocktail reception was held that same evening at Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught's Caracol Restaurant in the new BBVA Compass building on Post Oak Boulevard. The invite-only event, limited to BBVA Compass stakeholders, members of the media and local chefs -- among them Robert Del Grande, Chris Shepherd, Randy Evans, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan -- were treated to a sampling of several canapes prepared by the El Celler de Can Roca culinary team.
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Approximately 13 items were served, including a delicious frozen white asparagus vienetta with black truffle powder and black garlic puree; strips of anchovy bones tempura, in which the backbone of the anchovy was embedded into a crispy chip; several bonbons that burst in your mouth when you bit them; truffle steamed brioche topped with freshly sliced black truffle; truffles made of black truffle cream and covered in cacao powder; mushroom risotto; and oysters with cava, pearls and apple compote.
Said Vaught, "It's been a significant event for our cooks and Hugo and Ruben [Ortega]. They consider it a once in a lifetime opportunity."