As a young man coming of age on Spain’s eastern seacoast, Perfecte Rocher was convinced that punk rock would be his life’s calling. Instead, the kitchens of some of the world’s top restaurants became his stage, where he set superlative cooking to the tune of his own maverick sensibilities.
Now, Rocher has been hired for a top post at a bold hospitality group in a place he is convinced will soon become known as one of the planet’s top restaurant destinations: San Diego.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen,” says Rocher, the new culinary director for Consortium Holdings, which operates Born and Raised, Neighborhood and 17 other properties here. “But you feel it — you feel that it’s on the way.”
Rocher has had that feeling before, when the veteran of several Michelin-starred kitchens in Europe was making his name in this country at renowned restaurants in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and most recently Seattle, where he ran the much-buzzed Tarsan i Jane with his wife and fellow chef, Alia Rocher.
All of those locales’ food scenes blew up in a big way, and now Rocher senses that energy here, too — thanks in part to the abundance of great local produce and seafood and an influx of imaginative chefs. He also has been impressed by the many honors lavished on San Diego restaurants recently, including the rare three Michelin stars awarded to Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar — one of four Michelin-starred establishments locally.
The San Diego region already feels like home to Rocher, his wife and their two young children, who live in the La Costa neighborhood of Carlsbad; they are enthusiastic fans of Legoland California and the local beaches, and have been to the San Diego Zoo more times than Rocher can count.
Here are excerpts from a recent conversation about Rocher’s newly adopted city, the path he took to get here and what’s in the works at CH:
Q: How is your family settling into San Diego so far?
A: Oh yeah, we love it. We go to different places all the time, because we’re still learning about the city. And I always say, the beaches are like free parks for kids!
Q: Can you talk a little about your path from punk rock to cooking?
A: I always say that I’m a frustrated musician — like, I wanted to be a rock star. And then I changed my career to cooking. … My father’s side of the family had a restaurant (in Spain), very famous. That means I grew up with food all the time, and I used to sleep downstairs at the restaurant. I had a punk rock band when I was 17, and I have two records with the band in Spain. And then I left for London to be in another punk rock band, and I have a record with them, too.
But the only job I knew how to do was in the kitchen (which led to positions at the Michelin-starred Manor House Hotel in London). And I made the decision (to switch careers) after the chef told me, ‘I don’t know how good you are at music. But I think you are good at cooking.’”
Q: How did your experiences in L.A., San Francisco and Seattle inform your perspective on San Diego’s restaurant scene?
A: When I came here, I saw the potential, too. Callie, from Travis (Swikard, that restaurant’s owner and chef) is very successful, is getting a lot of accolades. Eric Bost from Jeune et Jolie is here, too, and they’re opening more things. Addison just got three Michelin stars. It’s happening now, you know? I think I came here at the right moment, too. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. Maybe one year? Or maybe it will take five years. But the process is started right now, I think . And the reason people are going to want to come here is because, would you prefer to be in Chicago, with the cold there, or come to San Diego and be able to (enjoy) the beaches, and also have the opportunity to have a good restaurant — what do you prefer? And I think most of the chefs are going to start to see, (should I go) to L.A. and spend one hour in traffic every day, right? Or go to San Francisco and pay a lot of rent, double what it is here? You need to evaluate everything. And I think for us chefs this is a good place to be.
Q: What role do you feel Consolidated Holdings can play in all that?
A: CH has the opportunity to start to bring in the chefs, the managers who’ve been successful in other places, and I think they can have the opportunity now to have good weather and happy people around them. I also think CH can be a good representation of San Diego outside of (the city). You have the potential to say, is there a company all across the United States that can have all that? That doesn’t mean other companies do not represent San Diego, but for the volume, for the number of restaurants, we have this pressure to make it good.
Q: It sounds as though you’ve got plenty to focus on in the coming months — but what are some of your favorite things to do with your family when you’re not working? I’m guessing you’ve been to the San Diego Zoo?
A: I’ve been 100 times already to the Zoo! I could work there, I could be a tour guide at the Zoo for sure. My daughter and I usually go to the Zoo or to the (Fleet) Science Center (in Balboa Park), because my daughter loves that museum.
I’m happy to be here in San Diego … I think is a very good place to start to do something.