Last week, chefs from El Celler de Can Roca, one of the world’s best restaurants, traveled to Denver to host two dinners at Cherry Creek’s Halcyon hotel. The event was put on by BBVA, and the guest list was invite-only, including local bank customers, Denver chefs and restaurateurs, and some press, among others. Last year the Roca brothers first took their Girona, Spain-based Celler (pronounced: say-YARE) on tour, serving elaborate multi-course meals in London, Hong Kong, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Santiago. This year they chose Denver. Here’s what to know about the visit.
- How important is this restaurant? As of 2017, El Celler de Can Roca holds three Michelin stars, the most awarded to any restaurant. For the past three years, it has presided over the top three spots on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants — a much referenced, if contested list. The three brothers who run El Celler de Can Roca are UN Goodwill Ambassadors, promoting sustainable development around the world. The restaurant sits in a small town in Northern Spain, a region that has cultivated such gastronomic forces as the Adrià brothers of El Bulli fame and Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz. Pastry chef Jordi Roca was the only brother of the three in attendance in Denver. His desserts are known for their molecular surprises as well as pairings with perfume scents.
2. Why did it come to Denver? One of the biggest questions asked before and during the event: Why Denver? And while there was certainly speculation about the city’s rising food scene playing a role, it largely didn’t factor. Based in Spain, BBVA operates across the U.S. Sun Belt. And for potential Roca dinners, the bank looks at locations where it does big business. The more common answer for Why Denver? was: Why not?
3. How did it affect the city? Here’s the cool part. Fifteen staffers from Spain came to run the event, which spanned two nights of more than four hours and nine courses in an upstairs banquet room at the Halcyon. In addition to the Spanish team, though, 12 students from Metropolitan State University’s hospitality program participated, along with the Halcyon event staff and chefs from Departure Denver. Of the Denver participants, two were chosen to attend El Celler de Can Roca’s internship program in 2018. Next year Brandon Hart from ACF Colorado Chefs Association apprenticeship program and Eosther Fajardo-Anstine from MSU will travel to Girona for four months.
4. What was served for dinner? In proper Roca form, presentation of the dishes was as much a priority as their taste. A medley of bursting “bonbon,” parfait, and creamed seafood appetizers shaped into starfish kicked off the night, followed by a tour of five countries in as many bites. For the first course, five ornately designed truffles were unveiled at each diner’s seat from inside a paper globe. Seafood dominated much of the menu, which featured dishes from the restaurant’s own repertoire back in the Mediterranean — vegetable consommé with marinated scallops, rice vinegar-marinated prawn with “its own head juice,” and sea bass in a “suquet of its bones.” A Spanish suckling pig was a fan favorite as was the “lemon cloud” dessert, paired with a perfume made specifically to accompany the dish.
5. How did it compare? Reservations for an entire year at El Celler de Can Roca sold out in just eight minutes in 2016. There is no doubt that the restaurant is highly sought after and often traveled for. When a restaurant itself travels to the guest, however, a different experience is to be expected. The courses served from a hotel event space by a mixed local and foreign staff were altogether ambitious and overall delicious. Service was organized and attentive, and wines were expertly paired. But for the majority of Denver diners who missed out, know that this restaurant is still captured best in the Roca’s own “house cellar.” And rest assured that a handful of Denver chefs and restaurant owners were in attendance, watching closely, taking notes, and, by the end of the night, looking ready as ever to get back to work.