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The world's No. 2 restaurant heads to Texas on ambitious tour

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Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 Roca brothers - Outside El Celler Can Roca
Jordi, Josep and Joan Roca will close their restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, for a five-week world tour that includes a stop in Dallas. Courtesy photo
8 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class
Joan Roca leads a master class for students at the Art Institute of Houston. Photo by Eric Sandler
6 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class
This dish combines baby octopus, paprika and wood smoke.  Photo by Eric Sandler
3 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class
Celebrity chef Ingrid Hoffmann translated for Roca.  Photo by Eric Sandler
2 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class participant
A student sniffs the paprika.  Photo by Eric Sandler
1 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class
Joan Roca and Ingrid Hoffmann at the Art Institute of Houston. Photo by Eric Sandler
Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 Roca brothers - Outside El Celler Can Roca
8 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class
6 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class
3 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class
2 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class participant
1 Joan Roca coming to Houston May 2014 master class

The eyes of the culinary world will be on Texas this summer: El Celler de Can Roca, the restaurant in Girona, Spain, that was ranked No. 2 in the world by Restaurant magazine, is coming to Dallas and Houston in August as part of a four-country, five-city tour. The three brothers behind the restaurant — executive chef Joan Roca, sommelier Josep and pastry chef Jordi — will close up for five weeks and bring their entire 30-person staff with them.

At a May 19 press conference in Houston, Joan Roca, speaking Spanish translated by celebrity chef Ingrid Hoffmann, explained the tour is a way to respond to requests that the brothers open a second restaurant without having to determine a way to do so without their physical presence.

"The only option was to just take the entire restaurant on tour and re-create the entire experience," Roca said. "It seems ... the only honest way of re-creating it is by shutting down for five weeks."

 Executive chef Joan Roca said he hoped the tour will allow the brothers to demonstrate their food, technique, way of thinking and creativity. 

Roca said colleagues asked if he was crazy when they heard about the plans, but he maintained that their goals for the tour are to be inspired by the cities they visit, to inspire others with their food and to teach students.

Over a five-day visit to Texas — three in Houston, two in Dallas — the brothers will serve 100 people per day, 50 each for lunch and dinner. Two students from each city will earn a four-month-long apprenticeship at the celebrated restaurant. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the majority of people reading this won't even have the chance to make a reservation. As the sponsor of the tour, bank BBVA Compass will invite "clients, prospects and community stakeholders" to attend the meals, according to J. Reymundo Ocanas, BBVA's director of corporate responsibility and reputation. No public reservations will be available for the meals, which will take place at the Museum of Fine Art Houston's Rienzi House and a to-be-determined spot in Dallas. 

Rather than attempting to import Spanish ingredients and serving them in Texas, the chefs will use local ingredients. Roca admitted that he knows "very little" about the state's culinary world, save for dinners at Caracol and RDG + Bar Annie in Houston. So he's leaving a couple of staff members behind to prepare for the tour. They'll work with chefs at Caracol to research ingredients and explore restaurants that Roca will try to visit when he returns. 

Roca said he hoped the tour will allow the brothers to demonstrate their food, technique, way of thinking and creativity. "In each city having to work with locally sourced products is a challenge that at the same time is inspirational."

The apprenticeship could be a life-changing opportunity for the students, two each from the Art Institute of Houston and Le Cordon Bleu in Dallas. A group of 12 students from the two schools got a preview of what they could expect when Roca led a master class during which he explained how the concepts of memory, academics, landscape, wine and tradition shape the development of some of the restaurant's celebrated dishes. 

Roca has said they consider it critical to support talent, and they want to help the next generation of chefs explore their skills and develop confidence. Every year, more than 400 people apply to study in their training program. 

Hopefully the young chefs who travel to Spain will bring what back they've learned to Texas and share it with their colleagues. Although the experience probably won't yield a restaurant as celebrated as Can Roca, only good things can come from identifying young talent and encouraging it. 

Even if only 500 Texans will get to experience what all the fuss is about.

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