It isn't every night that I get to sit down to an 18-course dinner. In fact, it's only been one night. Last night. Joan, Josep, and Jordi Roca, the owners and chefs of World's Best Restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, served this extensive meal to more than 400 guests here in Birmingham, Alabama. I was lucky to be just one of them.
The brothers, along with their entire 40-person restaurant staff, chefs from several Birmingham restaurants, and local culinary students, actually prepared this menu twice, both last night and the evening before. The exercise is part of their global culinary tour, bringing their exquisite food and wine to 5 cities: Birmingham, Miami, Houston, Buenos Aires, and Istanbul. (They toured last summer, too, visiting Houston and Dallas; Monterrey and Mexico City in Mexico; Bogota; and Lima, Peru.) The tour, which is sponsored by Spanish bank BBVA, is a way for the brothers to bring their unique style of science-meets-art-meets-academia cuisine to folks who, like me, aren't really going to be making the 4,000-mile journey to Girona, Spain any time soon.
Of the 18 courses, I walked away dreaming of Chef Jordi Roca's Chocolate Anarchy, which was fitting for such a fanciful dish. This final dessert contained 14 different types of chocolate and was a work of wonder to behold.
But my favorite part? Oh my favorite part was the dinner's location. We were, as I mentioned, in Cooking Light's hometown, Birmingham, Alabama. It's no accident that the Roca brothers and BBVA decided to bring the tour through this Southern jewel of a city. Yes, BBVA has a large U.S. base of operations here in Birmingham, so they were able to treat many of their clients to a once-in-a-lifetime dinner. I think, however, that their choice to stop here says so much about the food scene blossoming here in central Alabama. Birmingham is growing and changing and evolving in ways many of its oldest and most dedicated citizens have only dreamed. And food, quite possibly above all else, is leading the revolution. In fact, Zagat's put the Magic City at the top spot on their list of America's Next Hot Food Cities.
"Imagine having the Rolling Stones and their road crew descend upon Birmingham and hang out for four days and play music, share their craft, and get to know the community," said Cooking Light Editor Hunter Lewis. "That's what it's been like to have the Roca brothers here. Their innovative spirit and creativity is inspiring."
At last night's event, the brothers assured the crowd that they will be a champion for Birmingham wherever they go. Hopefully the city of Birmingham can graciously return the favor.