Jordi Roca, Spanish Premio Nacional de Gastronomía
Microfinance offers a real opportunity to people with not much money to start up their own business
Joan, Jordi and Josep Roca, owners of the “El Celler de Can Roca” in Gerona, have been awarded the Spanish Premio Nacional de Gastronomía and their restaurant won a special mention from the British Restaurant Magazine as one of the best in the world.
In January 2016 the Roca brothers were appointed UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors under the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to work hand in hand with the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund). They will be promoting the goals agreed by world leaders for a future in which by 2030 hunger, unemployment, inequality and climate change will be problems of the past*.
1. What does being a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador entail? What does it mean to be the first such ambassadors to be specifically working on the SDGs?
When we discovered that the United Nations was initiating a new era of development cooperation, with an ambitious proposal for achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we clearly saw a great opportunity there. Looking at food from the three angles used to work on sustainable development –from the social, economic and environmental viewpoint- helps us to understand many of the challenges we have come across in our culinary travels around the world. We also feel very proud to be the first UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors since the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda began. We hope that what we have learnt in our travels can contribute to the work the SDG Fund is already doing, providing access to food, nutrition and the creation of job opportunities in 21 countries.
2. What plans and initiatives do you have as Ambassadors?
Being ambassadors is an opportunity that we should make the most of in our role as cooks. Working from the area we know best, we want to focus on promoting food security and nutrition, working especially on local sourcing of foodstuffs. We are going to help promote farmers’ markets, with varied, nutritious foods that can cover the local communities’ needs and be a source of decent-quality work.
Our first plan as UNDP ambassadors is to work in Nigeria to fight against food being wasted just because people don’t know how to preserve it. We will create an institute to raise awareness about food security and help farmers from the Kaduna region to promote and sell their produce. Last week, Josep went there with some samples of the work we have done at home on preserving foodstuffs, so that the local farmers could try them and then develop preservation systems tailored to their own needs. If this turns out well, the idea is to spread the project to other African countries.
3. The BBVA Microfinance Foundation BBVA (BBVAMF) has developed a Responsible Business Finance methodology in order to offer financial services to support productive activities and projects in the most vulnerable sectors of the population. From what you have seen in your many trips to support various projects for solidarity, do you consider that microfinance can be like healthy eating, and generate development and well-being?
Microfinance offers a real opportunity to people with not much money to start up their own business. This is always positive, because local businesses don’t just enhance the life of the entrepreneurs, but also encourage the overall development of the regions where they are working. On the trips we used to make before we travelled with BBVA, we visited small local producers who live off what they produce. It is important for such people to have access to the money they need to keep their businesses going, because the well-being and development of their communities depend, precisely, on these small-scale farmer and local producers.
4. 31% of the BBVAMF Group customers live in rural environments. What three things can a farmer do to improve produce quality?
It’s important for local producers to take care of their food traditions and learn from them. Mastering techniques for preparing, preserving and using foodstuffs and minimising waste is also necessary to develop their output. It would be very positive, too, if they could become more involved in the dialogue and activities to fight hunger and poor nutrition.
5. Many microfinance customers have small spaces devoted to cooking with traditional recipes. What tips would you give them to attract clients?
Traditional cooking, when done with love and care, is a business model that can be really successful. At the end of the day, people always want to return to their roots, the flavours of their childhood… That is why it’s best to try to attract the people from nearby, who live close to you, who you see every day. These kinds of businesses should develop locally, and make something great out of the local business.
6. New technologies are being very useful to facilitate access to financial services. What do you think the popularisation of technology means for society? And the food business?
New technologies, especially the social networks, are a good way to disseminate the work we do to people who are following us and to keep abreast of what is happening in cooking. They let us to know what is going on, what is being done and how people are responding.
In our case, we are very aware that what goes out over the social media has an enormous impact on the brand. That is why on the El Celler de Can Roca media we are so careful about what we write and how, where and what we are going to communicate. All the passion and hard work we put into creating our reputation needs to be preserved, cared for and disseminated over the social networks. Personally, I am amazed by the immediacy of Twitter or Instagram. In just seconds, you get your message out there to the entire world. You can do really important things over social platforms.
7. Recently you spent a day working with entrepreneurs from the Esperanza Fund, the Chilean entity in the Foundation Group, who wanted to make their living from gastronomy and cooking. What recipe would you give people like them, to make a success of their projects and achieve both social and economic development?
What’s most important to get a project off the ground is to work hard and work with passion. And you really have to go all out to innovate, to go beyond the merely conventional if you want to set yourself apart. If you are authentic and doing what you enjoy, your possibilities of success increase considerably. In our case, as entrepreneurs, it was fundamental to be totally clear about what we wanted to do. That’s also a key point.
8. One of the hallmarks of the Foundation Group is that we provide follow-up for our borrowers, accompanying loans with advisory services and training, so that they can develop a robust business and finance culture. The Roca brothers have said that you feel it is your responsibility to society to transfer your know-how. What does that mean in practice?
We are aware that true social change has to come from training. As UNDP Ambassadors, we want to encourage the creation of training institutes for young people so that through cooking, they can find alternative ways of living and sustainable sources of income for their families. Moreover, in El Celler de Can Roca, we also make our own tiny contribution to training young people. Here, the trips we have been making with BBVA over the last three years have given us an excellent opportunity to identify local talent in each of the towns and cities we visited. As we toured around, we got together with several catering schools to give students the opportunity to work with the kind of kitchen equipment and facilities we have and to see how a restaurant really operates. In every town, we chose two students who had shown skill and passion for cooking and wanted to learn, so that they could come and do an internship at El Celler for four months.
9. “And for dessert…” At what stage of the meal would you include eucalyptus?
A dessert I really enjoy preparing is a green delight, Cromatismo verde: distilling eucalyptus leaves, creamed avocado and a sauce of lime and chartreuse liqueur.
* Source: Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDGF)