What is it like to eat at one of the world's best restaurants? A handful of lucky metro Phoenix residents will find out next week when one of Spain's highest-rated restaurants sets up shop in north Scottsdale for a series of invite-only pop-up dinners.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to be a BBVA Compass Bank client – or know someone who knows someone – to secure a spot at the table.
El Celler de Can Roca, which is located about an hour northeast of Barcelona in the city of Girona, is one of the world's most highly acclaimed restaurants. The restaurant has earned a three Michelin star rating, and in 2015, it was named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine, a British publication whose annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list has become something like the Oscars of gastronomical achievement.
It wasn't the first time El Celler cracked the top 50 list, either; it was also named best restaurant in the world by the magazine in 2013, and it has graced the top ten list several times in recent years (including earning the number two slot this year).
The restaurant is owned and managed by the three Roca Brothers: executive chef Joan, sommelier Josep, and pastry chef Jordi. They are culinary superstars in their native Spain and beyond, recognized for their inventive modernist cooking techniques — blowtorches are a common component of the El Celler kitchen repertoire — and for their sprawling, creative tasting menus. They're also U.N. Goodwill ambassadors who promote the use of local and sustainable foods.
Not surprisingly, getting a dinner reservation at El Celler can be notoriously difficult. According to many reports, the restaurant is often booked up to almost a year in advance, and an evening well-spent at El Celler has been known to rack up a bill large enough to rival the average car payment.
So, how exactly does one of the world's best and most exciting haute cuisine restaurants find its way to metro Phoenix? The visit is part of a five-city world tour that will take the chefs to three continents in five weeks.
Since the summer of 2014, the Roca Brothers have shuttered their restaurant for weeks at a time to take El Celler on the road. Like culinary rock stars, they travel with a crew of 40 or so sous chefs and servers, essentially recreating the dazzling experience of dining at El Celler for guests in a handful of cities around the world.
The tour is sponsored by BBVA, the multinational Spanish banking group, and it is officially known as the BBVA-El Celler de Can Roca Tour.
According to Al Ortiz, a communications representative from BBVA, the El Celler team will be cooking three dinners at the Four Seasons Resort at Troon North in Scottsdale, with the opening night dinner kicking off on Wednesday, August 17. The private dinners are free to invited guests, and Ortiz says they try to accommodate as many BBVA clients as possible.
The BBVA- El Celler website describes the tour as an unprecedented "homage to gastronomy," but it's also a bit of a teaching and research tour for the Roca Brothers. In past interviews, the chefs have spoken at length about how traveling allows them to work with new ingredients and techniques that they can use to inform their work at El Celler.
The tour also gives them a chance to connect with culinary talent around the world — including up-and-coming young chefs. In advance of next week's pop-up dinners, the chefs have recruited 10 student volunteers from the Arizona Culinary Institute to help with the efforts of pulling off three large-scale, multi-course dinners.
In exchange for the help, the Roca Brothers will be teaching a private master class for ACI students and alumni. Even more exciting, after the dinners are over, the chefs will be selecting two of their ACI student volunteers and awarding them with a four-month externship to train at El Cellar in Spain.
Not a bad way to kick off your culinary career.
Along with Phoenix, the 2016 BBVA-El Celler tour is making stops in London, Hong Kong, Santiago de Chile, and San Francisco. Clearly, playing host to the Roca Brothers and El Celler puts Phoenix in highly exclusive company, which may lead you to wonder: Why Phoenix?
According to Ortiz, the process of short-listing world tour cities is made jointly between the Roca Brothers and BBVA. He says Phoenix was selected at least in part because Arizona posed "a nice challenge" for the brothers in terms of learning to cook with local desert ingredients.
In March 2016, Jordi Roca, the youngest of the Roca brothers and a world-renowned pastry chef, traveled to metro Phoenix on a reconnaissance trip of sorts. He scoped out possible cooking locations, met with local chefs, and began to source local ingredients for the Phoenix leg of the tour.
So, what can guests expect to feast on next week? There have been no menu leaks, but past El Celler world tour dinners have included 15 to 20 courses, including dishes that pay tribute to all the world tour cities, and dishes that incorporate local ingredients.
According to the Spanish language version of the BBVA-El Celler tour blog, Phoenix guests can expect to see classic Arizona ingredients and flora like citrus, cactus, melons, watermelon, sunflowers, and peppers highlighted on the menu.
Will the BBVA-El Celler tour dinners ever be open to the general public? Ortiz says that no plans have yet been made concerning possible future world tours, but that "anything could happen."
Even if you didn't score a seat at any of next week's events, you can follow along vicariously and catch glimpses of dishes being prepared on the BBVA-El Celler de Can Roca Tour Twitter.
Editor's Note: This post has been changed from its original version to reflect that El Celler was named best restaurants in the world in 2015 and 2013, not 2014 as previously stated.
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