Alejandra Rivas

The heart of Rocambolesc

06/24/2022 · By Roberto C. Rascón
Alejandra Rivas, the heart of Rocambolesc

A world of fantasy where children create unforgettable memories and adults have flashbacks they thought they’d forgotten. This is Rocambolesc, a sweet paradise conceived by Alejandra Rivas, alongside Jordi Roca. She’s the heart and he the soul of this proposal that, built on passion, creativity, and innovation, proves that sweet gastronomy knows no boundaries.

One of the most famous literary passages is where Marcel Proust tells the story of how the protagonist of Swann's Way (the first volume of In Search of Lost Time) dunks a madeleine in tea and that simple gesture awakens a flood of childhood memories. A similar feeling comes over you when you step into Rocambolesc, the sweet suggestion by confectioner Alejandra Rivas and Jordi Roca, pastry chef at El Celler de Can Roca, a restaurant with three Michelin stars considered one of the best in the world.

Precisely bringing the sweet world of El Celler onto the street was the seed of Rocambolesc. “Jordi —reminisces Alejandra— wanted to make a version for all, something more accessible, but we weren’t sure how.” That’s why they started out with an ice cream truck on the streets of Girona before settling in number 50 of Carrer de Santa Clara. This was in 2012. Now, that ice cream parlour, which turned into a city tourist attraction, has a sister. Side by side, we find the Rocambolesc sweet shop.

“What happens is that grandparents are the ones who bring their grandchildren so they can eat the ice creams”

A new project that is added to the recent opening of Rocambolesc in Houston. “It’s been our latest challenge. We export absolutely everything, the ice creams, ice lollies, toppings, from our bakery in Girona to the United States,” notes Alejandra, focusing on the logistical difficulties. Rocambolesc had already received offers to open abroad, but it hadn’t happened until now. Alejandra explains: “We’d never found the right partner. We have to make sure that we share the same values and the same way of working, because if not relationships end up failing.” Speaking of values, the company employs neurodivergent people.

A child inside each adult
“We wanted people to step into a world of fantasy where they enjoyed themselves, had a good time, and we could surprise them,” says Alejandra. If that’s Rocambolesc’s goal, mission accomplished. It’s hard not to lick your lips with their surprising mandarin, bergamot, vanilla, and basil sorbet, or smile a little at Rocanas, an ice lolly that’s an intensely personal replica of Jordi Roca’s nose, at the ice cream parlour; not to mention the chocolates, chocolate coated nuts and sweets that await you at the sweet shop. Their passion and care for sweets can be tasted in each of their products, and that’s how they captivate both young and old.

“Each adult has an inner child, and if we reach that child, we’ve achieved our goal —admits Alejandra—. Many people tell us that they feel like a child again when they have Pop Rocks on their ice cream. What happens is that grandparents are the ones who bring their grandchildren so they can eat the ice creams. It’s gratifying and fun to see.” Alejandra is really involved in the day-to-day of the shop; customer service is also a distinguishing feature of Rocambolesc. “I feel responsible for them, even if it’s just for the three minutes they’re standing at the counter, that’s where I have the chance to explain and advise them on which topping goes best with their ice cream.”

Every detail counts at Rocambolesc, and that eagerness can also be seen backstage, that is, in the bakery where the delicacies the customer finds in the shop are handmade. “The attention to detail we pay can’t be achieved with an industrial machine, —defends Alejandra when she talks about the ice lolly manufacturing process and their exclusive moulds— they’re made one by one in the bakery: you have to fill each mould by hand, remove the air bubbles and freeze them, then turn them out, and finally package them. It’s a really artisan process, but it also allows us to play with shapes and try different things.”

Creativity and non-conformism
“For me, gastronomy is a space for creativity, fun and complicity with my partner —Alejandra is married to Jordi Roca, and they have a three-year-old daughter—. I enjoy doing it and I’m lucky to work in this field.” Although beyond luck, the success of this Mexican from Guadalajara settled in Spain is down to hard work. “You have to work hard for your dreams and —she warns— not feel disappointed if you don’t get to where you want to be. Timings are always perfect for each of us, and you have to enjoy the journey.” For this reason, Alejandra is one of those people who considers that talent is made: “I don’t believe that talent is an emblem some people are born with, rather that anyone can acquire it if they work for it. I like to think about it this way because if we leave it up to certain people, it wouldn’t be fair for the rest of us, and we wouldn’t challenge ourselves.”

“I think that the world of confectionary is boundless, and if there are limits it’s because we set them ourselves”

Alejandra puts her talent to the test daily at Rocambolesc, pushing the limits of baking, if they exist. “I think that this world is boundless, and if there are limits it’s because we set them ourselves. Freedom to create is there, and if you want to experiment, there are many tools to do so,” she defends. Why not crown a yogurt ice cream with candyfloss? That non-conformism is, in her opinion, the key to Spanish cuisine: “The success of all these great chefs —and she would know, since besides going through El Celler, she’s also worked with Martín Berasategui— is related to non-conformism, that is: I can do it better or I can do it differently.”

Dealing with non-conformism in the shape of Jordi Roca’s boundless creativity is no easy task, Alejandra confesses laughing. “I always say we’re a perfect match because he’s more of the creative soul and I bring his ideas down to earth and into the shops.” Heart and soul are what Alejandra gives to Rocambolesc.