Soul brothers

Categories: Features

The Roca brothers—the trio behind one of the world’s best restaurants—come to Borough Market

Where do you start with the achievements of the Roca brothers? With the three Michelin stars—one for each brother—they have held for the past decade? With the fact their restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, has been judged one of the top three restaurants in the world on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the past nine years? With their wine cellar of 60,000 bottles, curated by Josep Roca, the sommelier of the brothers; the appearance of Jordi Roca, head of pastry, on Netflix Chef’s Table last year; or with the eldest brother, Joan Roca, who’s often dubbed the successor to Ferran Adria of El Bulli? Or do you look at their positions as UNDP goodwill ambassadors and what these accolades and experiences bring to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, addressing hunger, unemployment, climate change and inequality?

Let’s start there—or rather, let’s start in Borough Market, where on an otherwise bleak and blustery day the Roca brothers descended last week. They were drawn to explore here as much by the ideals of the Market—ideals they have lived their lives in honour of—as its vibrant international standing. The brothers are renowned for the value they place on producing food locally, in a manner that respects the environment, the community and the culture it comes from. And this ideology has gone far beyond the theory into a series of recognisable, practical initiatives.

Roca brothers

Catalan traditions
It lies at the heart of their work both within their restaurant, where the menu is as much born of Catalan traditions as it is the brothers’ creativity, and outside it, in their community and around the world in their work as UN goodwill ambassadors. “In our restaurant we run various programmes with people who are underprivileged in our area, such as a workshop that recycles glass from our wine bottles into plates or drinking glasses. We use these in the restaurant or tourists can buy them, funding the workshops and the additional support we provide,” explains Joan.

Beyond Girona, the brothers are involved with the establishment of training centres in a number of developing countries, which help local communities combat waste (in impoverished villages in Nigeria, for example, where they are teaching people how to preserve vegetables through drying them) and improve conditions for small-scale farmers and producers—something markets can play a vital role in.

A faithful reflection
“Markets are important to sustainability in cities,” says Josep. “They mean people and restaurants can have direct relationships with farmers and producers. Markets also offer produce at a price that is fair to the farmers.” Done well, a food market “reflects the city: the way its people eat and live. It’s why it is so interesting for us to visit Borough Market.” The brothers’ enthusiasm is reflected in the contents of their decomposable, reusable bags: vegetables from Chegworth Valley, honey from From Field and Flower, sausages from the Ginger Pig, spices from Spice Mountain and nuts from Food and Forest.

This is not like the markets of Girona—or even Barcelona—they say, because there are many more different cuisines here “and because there are trains coming overhead!” Josep shouts over the rattle of Southeastern. “It is a very faithful reflection, Borough Market, of the heart and soul of London. It shows London is a very multicultural city—dynamic and very alive.”