Even in normal circumstances it’s pretty hard (and fairly expensive) to experience a restaurant that has twice been awarded #1 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. And in a time of travel restrictions, given that this world beating restaurant is in Girona, Spain, this is even harder.
So we are DELIGHTED to be able to offer you the chance to savour fruits from El Celler de Can Roca, two time winner of The World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards, in the format of the bars of Casa Cacao, created as the chocolate brand of the restaurant by Jordi Roca and Damian Allsop.
And once Covid is out of the way, we’d recommend a trip to Casa Cacao. There you can see Jordi, Damian and the team crafting chocolate from bean to bar in situ, try their chocolate in their ‘atelier’ (workshop), and then stay in a unique hotel launched by Jordi, along with Anna Payet (wife of his brother Joan Roca), above their chocolate atelier.
See below for some of their bars, and read on for more details, about Casa Cacao and the inspiring stories behind Jordi, Damian and their craft chocolate (plus some awesome photos).
Girona and El Celler de Can Roca
In 1986 the three Roca brothers; Joan, Josep and Jordi; opened El Celler de Can Roca, next to their family’s main restaurant, Can Roca. Joan (the oldest brother) is the head chef, Josep (the middle brother) is the sommelier and the youngest brother, Jordi, is in charge of desserts (and was awarded the title ‘The World’s Best Pastry Chef’ in 2014). By 2009, El Celler de Can Roca had won three Michelin stars, and was named #1 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurant by Restaurant Magazine in 2013, and won the title again in 2015.
In addition to running the restaurant, and winning stars and prizes galore, the brothers have also appeared on MasterChef, Chef’s Table, and loads more (even teaching at the Science and Cooking Programme at Harvard University).
And yes, trying to get a table there isn’t easy. But we’ve an alternative, thanks to Jordi and Damian’s Casa Cacao. And this alternative is delivered directly to your door: Craft chocolate bars.
Casa Cacao: Jordi, Damian, and Team
Jordi and Damian have been working together for over two decades. Over twenty years ago Damian was the Head of Pastry at El Celler, and Jordi worked alongside him. And each have pursued their own extraordinary paths in the world of chocolate, rejoining to create Casa Cacao.
Jordi, as younger brother and youngest son of the Roca family, worked from an early age at El Celler de Can Roca. In his own words: “I am Jordi Roca, who with my brothers Josep and Joan … have been working for more than 20 years in the restaurant pastry and until 5 years ago I worked with chocolate like any other pastry maker, I understood chocolate as an ingredient and not as the magic result of an agricultural process, harvesting, fermentation, drying and making chocolate as now. That happened when I travelled to Peru in the Amazon region to learn about cacao crops grown by the Awajún native community, then visited Piura, later Ecuador, then Colombia… I understood the world of cacao as my brother Josep (Sommelier) understands the world of natural wines, where wine resembles the person who makes it, as I think it happens with cacao, which ends up looking like the people who grow it”. So Jordi decided not just to use chocolate in his deserts but to CRAFT it all the way from farm to the table in his workshop. As part of his research for the world’s best beans and chocolate, Jordi has written a book (called Casa Cacao), all of whose profits go to an NGO supporting the Awajun community in Peru.
Damian started out as a chef before deciding to specialise in Pastry at 18 years old with Robert Mey at the Hyatt. By 23 he was head pastry chef at Gordon Ramsey’s Aubergine restaurant, rubbing shoulders with fellow budding superstars including Angela Hartnett, Marcus Wareing and Mark Askew. He then moved to Spain and started work at El Celler de Can Roca for Joan and Josep and it was there he brought Jordi into the world of pastry. After a personal tragedy (for 6 months he was in a wheelchair and two years recovery), he returned to London and decided to branch out on his own into chocolate after he created the world’s first water ganache and launching a line he playfully called “Ch2ocolate” (the h2o is not a typo!). 8 years later he returned to El Celler de Can Roca, this time employed by his young apprentice!
Last year, after three years of planning and (unfortunately) just before Covid, Jordi and Damian joined forces, both determined “to make the most beautiful chocolate experience to showcase the most chocolate and beans (to) respect the magical ingredient that is cacoa”. They set up Casa Cacao firstly to craft a line of mazing chocolate bars (and filled chocolates), secondly to offer customers the chance to see chocolate being crafted from bean into finished bars and then thirdly to savour these chocolates in their ‘Bar Cacao’. Bar Cacao, alongside their chocolate bars, also serves a host of other chocolate delicacies including fartonnes, brownies and xuicos (a sweet typical of Girona).
Casa Cacao… More Than Chocolate
Casa Cacao is more than chocolate; again to quote Jordi: “The particularity of Casa Cacao is that just above the factory is the Hotel Casa Cacao run by my sister-in-law Anna”.
And Anna has a complementary vision for the Hotel Casa Cacao in her words: “For many years, El Celler de Can Roca guests have been encouraging us to open a small hotel to extend the hospitality and approach to caring and serving of the restaurant… so we didn’t hesitate when we found the perfect location in a historic listed building in Plaça Catalunya in Girona with a rooftop Terrace offering a spectacular view over the Barri Vell of Girona will also leave guests with a lasting memory. We do not need to give a map to customers, from La Terrassa (the Rooftop) we can show them the most emblematic monuments of the city”.
A couple of other suggestions for anyone lucky enough to stay in the hotel: Enjoy both your breakfast and your bedtime treat; again to quote Anna: “We realized that our breakfast had to be as important an experience as the hotel accommodation. When the client goes up to La Terrassa (the rooftop), the waiter always gives him the explanation and serves him breakfast at the table, it is a gastronomic breakfast. The idea is to reflect, as much as possible, the festival menu of El Celler de Can Roca, but in this case with breakfast. Therefore, this breakfast always takes into account seasonal and local products, giving importance and visibility to small producers in the area, such as farmers, cattle ranchers and artisans”.
And then at the end of the day, as you relax in your room furnished chocolate associated tones and materials, you are in for a chocolate treat: “Every day our customers have in their bedside table a proposal of different chocolate with an explanation of their ingredients, proposals that come to us directly from the chocolate workshop as a surprise factor for the customer”.
So if you want to try some amazing chocolate, see it being crafted and stay in an award winning boutique hotel with amazing views (and breakfasts), look no further.
A Final Reflection on the Chocolate
By their own admission, before setting up Casa Cacao, both Jordi and Damian had “worked with” but never “created” chocolate. And they’ve now gone to extreme lengths to source, and craft, their bars. For example, to quote Damian on a sourcing trip. “It took us three hours on a boat, two hours riding on donkeys and another two hours of walking to the village in Peru”.
Their philosophy complements this spirit of adventure: “We have been lucky to learn first-hand a lot of details about the fermentation and drying process of cacao beans and about people that keep on crafting it with ancestral methods. The intention is to rediscover ..not only the ancient cacoas .. us but also those that are cultivated and treated by the indigenous peoples, such as the Awajun or the Arhuacos, …other origins such as India are new to us, and we are interested in their aromatic complexity”.
Or as Jordi quotes from Mamu Camilo of the Arhuaca community in the prologue to his book (I’ve had to really shorten this section, see the website for the full, and very moving, words which details the extraordinary history of despair and then partial return for the Arhuaca over many centuries):
“We have been here since the creation and the beginning of everything. This is our Earth, we don’t come from elsewhere, … at one time we had to move away from it because of the invasion and colonization that has stripped us of our territory. Through struggle and insistence … we have recovered part of our territory and we have continued to grow cacao there. We never had many seeds, but we are taking care of them, fulfilling the obligations at every stage of plant development. .. We advise our younger siblings, bunachu, when they obtain our product, that before tasting it, they should take a moment to appreciate this millennial tradition and the ancestral message that advocates peace and harmony among all that exists, seeking the balance of Mother Nature”.
Strong words. Matched in amazing bars thanks to Jordi, Damian and their team.
Below you’ll find bars sourced with beans from Colombia, and also Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic and India. Casa Cacao is willing to experiment with very different percentages (from 100% on down to 66% in dark bars) and different milks (cow, sheep and goat). And Casa Cacao’s packaging not only showcases these milks and origins, it is also made from the waste materials of cocoa shell (and they make great coasters for cups or drinks after you finish savouring the bar).
It’s been wonderful to re-establish contact with Damian again (many moons ago I met him in London before he headed back to El Celler de Can Roca). And it’s been an honour, and a delight, to make contact with Jordi, Gemma and the Casa Cacao team. We really look forward to visiting them in person, experiencing that amazing rooftop view and (of course) savouring their craft chocolate in situ.
In the meantime, treat yourself to their extraordinary craft bars. Each showcases different flavour notes. All evolve, and delight, with complexity and length as you savour them. And the variety is extraordinary — everything from fudgy milks that slowly open up (e.g., the Arhuaco Milk from Colombia) to dark bars that offer everything from stone fruits (the Chiapas Mexican) to wonderfully wine like sensations (the Hacienda Victoria from Ecuador); see below for more (including an amazingly vibrant but approachable 100% from Kerala in India).
And after all, how often can you experience the work of a chef awarded the title of “World’s Best Pastry Chef” and made under the aegis of a restaurant that has twice been awarded #1 spot by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants? Plus you can do this without leaving your home, and for less than the price of a round at the pub (or tapas bar).
Note: Inspired by requests from customers for chocolate themed activities and visits, and by the opportunity to visit Casa Cacao, we are adding to our map, and blog, more information about makers and growers that you can visit. If you’re interested in this topic, register HERE.