Saturday 18 May 2013

El Celler de Can Roca: If Perfume Be The Food Of...Er...If Perfume Be The Food!

El Celler de Can Roca 
Owing to the all-consuming nature of work lately, my newspaper reading has been even slower than usual.  At the best of times it can take me a whole week to read the Saturday Times, but sometimes my piecemeal progress with the paper can stretch to a fortnight.   Thus it is that the subject of this post draws on an article in The Times from May 4th about a Spanish restaurant in Girona run by three brothers, which has been named as the best restaurant in the world - El Celler de Can Roca.  As someone who frequently skips lunch in favour of a sort of 'teabrunch' around 4pm, I was alarmed to learn that lunch at El Celler de Can Roca costs a cool 165 euros and consists of no fewer than 21 courses.  And even if I had an appetite to do justice to that number of courses, I would be a bit lairy about some of the dishes on offer.  'A grilled prawn with foam and seawater and sponge cake of plankton' sounds a little ominous, and I wouldn't go a bundle on 'caramelised olives filled with anchovies' hung on a bonsai olive tree, not least because I don't care for olives and anchovies.

Can't be too dwarf enough for me.

But what caught my eye in this extensive and gastrononomically envelope-pushing menu was one of the four desserts.  At least I assume they were all desserts - I am going by the natural break in the text between those four items and 'pigeon with mole poblano sauce and charcoal-grilled strawberries'.  Though with strawberries in there too it really is anyone's guess!.  And hopefully no actual moles, as the poor creatures wouldn't have seen that posthumous pigeon-paring coming, God love 'em.

Yes, the dessert that caught my eye was: 'A fragrance adapted: Shalimar by Guerlain'.

Pardon??  A flurry of googling later, I learnt that the pastry chef, Jordi Roca, has got form for making desserts that conjure up well-known perfumes.  He had a crack at Calvin Klein's Eternity (which wouldn't have been my first pick, I must say), capturing 'the volatile soul of a perfume, deciphering the formula and adapting it to an edible reality'.

Jordi went on to devise a whole slew of desserts based on scents, from houses such as DKNY, Caroline Herrera, Hermès, Lancôme and Bvlgari.  I gather he had a spot of bother replicating Chanel No 5, as well he might really(!), even if he was armed with the culinary equivalent of a gas chromatograph ;-).  Okay, I am being silly - I don't actually know how he went about his fragrance deconstruction.

DKNY perfume dessert - strange but true!

I found this description of a Terre d'Hermes-themed dessert on a Thai gastroblog called Sfreelife:

' Jordi had to distill the earth and pour the clear liquid over the chocolate-orange heavenly combination. The other key elements include patchouli, jasmine, pomelo, shiso and beetroot leaf.'

There's foodie verisimilitude for you...   Jordi's edible perfume creations even include Angel by Thierry Mugler - shudder.  There again, maybe it would be better eaten rather than worn?  And in a nice touch diners are also given a paper cone with the actual perfume sprayed inside to compare against the dessert they are eating.

DKNY perfume sample cones

Then in an intriguing reverse twist, there is also an actual perfume you can buy, inspired by a lemon dessert from the restaurant ie a case of perfume imitating pudding rather than the other way about.  It is called Núvol de Llimona or 'lemon cloud', and the dessert on which it is based is 'Lemon Distillation'.  Bizarre as this may sound - though let's face it, everything about this restaurant is a little left field - the perfume was designed to be sprayed as a mist over diners as they ate the dish.  Now that might be a case of sensory overload, I'm not sure.  Olfactoria recently asked the question about what perfumes you pair with food, but this is taking the notion a step further.

Here is a description from the Roca Perfumes site:

'With the co-operation of perfumer Agustí Vidal, Jordi has captured the essence of the dish, a “lemon muffin soaked in milk”, and has successfully encapsulated its flavour in a bottle of fragrance.

Top notes: bergamot, tangerine
Middle notes: lily of the valley, milk, custard
Base notes: sugar syrup, toasted sugar, musk'

Oh - guess what?  My googling of images uncovered a post by Judith of The Unseen Censer - she has tried the perfume AND met both Jordi and the perfumer in Barcelona!  Seems like Núvol de Llimona gets a thumbs up from her, although she had issues with its longevity.  But she gves props to Jordi and the perfumer for avoiding a 'Lemon Pledge' note - that alone is indeed some feat.

So I have to ask - is there any perfume whose gastronomic interpretation you would like to eat - or any dessert you would like to wear as a perfume?

After all, there are a number of gourmand dessert-y scents around, so the latter route at least is fairly well trodden.

But going back to the Times article that caught me eye, eating Shalimar would be an altogether different matter in my view.  Especially if Jordi managed to replicate the civet...

Finally, here is a photo of the great man himself - a little bit edible himself, you might say.

Jordii Roca: fragrantly - and flagrantly - smooth operator

Photo of El Celler de Can Roca from Wikimedia Commons via e_calamar, photos of bonsai tree, DKNY dessert and perfume cone samples from Flickr Creative Commons via Robert Young, photo of Núvol de Llimona from Fragrantica, photo of Jordi Roca from


Tara said...

Hi V, I'm not keen on perfume being noticeable while I'm eating, but that restaurant seems to be doing something interesting. I actually like the sound of the Lemon Cloud perfume.

I think gourmands with a citrus twist which cuts through the sweetness work well - like Sunshine and Pancakes for example. I'd happily try the edible version of that one.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

The restaurant sounds like the epitome of bonkers, so it gets my vote on that score certainly.

And yes, the Lemon Cloud perfume appeals to me too - I wonder if it might be like this vintage Houbigant Chantilly I have taken a shine to lately, or maybe even Promesse de l'Aube?

Sunshine and Pancakes is a great idea for a dessert interpretation. I bet Sarah would be game to see Jordi have a crack at that!

Olfactoria's Travels said...

I'm loving this, to paraphrase an entiry less high-brow food emporium. I'd love to try Lemon Cloud, it sounds delicious and the perfume I'd like to eat is Nabucco Amytis, yum!
Excellent post, V! xoxo

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Hahaha! I know that emporium. I have frequent recourse to the chain's many branches across Europe and further afield on account of their toilets, wifi, 'hot tea' - and just occasionally, carefully selected items of food.

I shall have to look up that perfume you mentioned, and meanwhile, have the happiest of birthdays - 31 again, I note. :-) x

Vanessa said...

Hi again,

I checked out your review of Amytis and it sounds as though it would make a special dessert indeed. Plus I bet the chef could incorporate that most distinctive bottle into a quirky installation somewhere! The set menu price may need to crash the 200 euro barrier, but at that level of expenditure on food already, who's counting?! :-)

Carol said...

hahaha re: moles v. mole sauce. (I love mole sauce a bit too much, I fear)

Ines said...

I'd try Shalimar in dessert form any day.
Jordi too. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Carol,

I know the term ;-), but am not sure I have had mole sauce, though the Canarians do a fiery one with salty 'wrinkled' potatoes that may be similar. Patatas arrugadas con mojo in a red or green version.

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

What are you like, haha?!!

Suzanne said...

Interesting, Vanessa. I think the Lemon Cloud perfume sounds quite delightful, but the actual food at El Celler de Can Roca doesn't sound all that appealing to me ... and I consider myself a foodie, to a certain extent. As it's been named "the best restaurant in the world," then I suppose I shouldn't question, but sometimes I think restaurants can lose sight of what really constitutes a great meal when they are aiming to be so cutting edge (no pun intended).

That said, to answer your question, I'd love to have the dessert version of Le Labo Poivre 23 or SoOud Ouris, both of which are uberly creamy. :)

Ines said...

Brave? ;)

Undina said...

Vanessa, it's such a fun post! :)

Unlike others, I liked how those dishes you've mentioned sounded, I woudn't mind trying all those (though the price is prohibitively high: I do not love food that much ;) ).

As to the desserts/perfumes, Jo Malone's Sweet Milk already represents for me one of my favorite sweets from my childhood - condenced milk - so I'm fine. But I wouldn't refuse to try almost anything perfume-related: if nothing else,as a novelty item.

And I must say that Lemon Cloud sounds quite appealing - in both forms :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

I think Lemon Cloud is possibly one of the best things on offer at El Celler de Can Roca - then I do have rather conventional tastes myself, it must be said. A nice chicken and ham pie with a jacket potato will do me nicely.

And feel free to question the restaurant's accolade as 'best in the world' all you like. I can imagine that it deserves the title 'most inventive restaurant' or 'most surreally whimsical restaurant', but in terms of serving hearty portions of 'a bit of what you fancy' that is a whole other ballgame...

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

I'd say brave, yes. Ref the Shalimar, that is. Ref the man himself, I'd say 'no-brainer'. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Forgot to say that I like your choice of Poivre 23 in particular - I have tried Ouris but can't bring it to mind. Poivre 23 would make a nice creamy, spicy, Christmassy posset type of dessert (whatever a posset may be...)

My own pick has just occurred to me - Balenciaga Cristobal! Spicy creamy fig delight. Bombay Bling would be rather nice too, I fancy.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I pronounce you another brave one!

Yes, I am not terribly adventurous, nor do I have deep pockets, but I take my hat off to you for being so open to new things. I can also see Rusty having a good old swipe at that bonsai tree...and the rest!!

Jo Malone Sweet Milk is pretty much the finished article of perfume imitating dessert, so no need to translate it exactly into edible form I agree. Another milky one might be Love's True Bluish Light, which I haven't tried in ages!

Unknown said...

It does indeed soon delightfully bonkers. I like the idea of mad food. :-)

Lemon pudding perfume sounds lovely. For some reason I don't like orange perfumes but love lemons. Just goes to show how daft I am.

I was pondering your question about which perfume if any you would like to eat and I am definitely of the tropical persuasion there. I think Bronze Goddess would be a rather palatable parfait and some of those mahoooosive white floral bombs such as Mahora would be magnificent on a plate, don't you think? And Villoressi's Teint de Neige would be a lovely macaroon or one of those snowball-type concoctions, wouldn't it?

Vanessa said...

Hi Birdie,

Bonkers is the word!

Funny that you should be so selective in your citrus perfume tastes. I am a big fan of orange scents myself, and a little bit more wary of lemon ones, ever since I sniffed Fresh Sugar. With apologies to whoever it was who sent me that sample!

Teint de Neige is an excellent suggestion for a dessert interpretation. I am imagining just such a snowball concoction as you describe, also those white Ferrero Raffaello coconut crisp-type sweets.

Anonymous said...

Someone used the term "verysmellitude" once -- NO idea why it's popped into my head

Vanessa said...

Hi Anonymous,

Well, I am so glad it has! What a perfect term - if you remember who came up with it, do tell, as I would like to shake their hand. :-)

Anonymous said...

Got it! A character in a Sarah Caudwell mystery used "verysmellitude". --AnnieA

P.S. Thanks very much for the list of London stores. I'll be in London next month and while I am pretending to look at what's going on in the museums I first have to buy perfume...

Vanessa said...

Hi again,

Well, thanks very much for clarifying the origin of that reference. Seems like it is the author's hand I need to shake then!

Have fun sniffing - and buying - perfume in London! I hear the Bowie exhibition at the V & A is very good if it is still on when you come over.

Anonymous said...

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. Intriguing, or just bizarre? A perfume-inspired food doesn't really appeal to me, as I don't even really like smelling perfume while eating.

Vanessa said...

Hi Natalie,

I know what you mean, and I am not one for wearing perfume around food either. I guess any initiative, however far out, that gets people exposed to and talking about perfume is to be commended! :-)