Happiness among casserole

Mercè Navarro (1934-2023)
Chef and owner of Roig Robí Restaurant

There are three types of restaurants: those that are fashionable, those that do not aspire to be and those that are fashionable without having aspired to it. Roig Robí is one of the latter. It is a restaurant that the people of Barcelona have protected as a precious asset since one day in 1982, when Felipe González had just won the elections. It is different because of its location in a pedestrian passageway like Sèneca street, its inner courtyard turned into a romantic garden and an exceptional Catalan cuisine, where the raw material is treated with care. In their dining room have eaten, among other illustrious clients, Antoni Tàpies (who made the drawing for the restaurant's menu), Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jeremy Irons, Richard Gere, Bebo Valdés, Paolo Conte, Ridley Scott or Robert De Niro.

It was Mercè Navarro, a mother of six children, who started it when they were beginning to have a life of their own. Soon two of them, Imma and Joan Crosas, lent her a hand, the latter being the one who currently runs the kitchen, recognizable as the first day. Mercè's home was on the upper floor of the restaurant. Since it opened its doors, she was the soul and the body of an establishment where vegetables were cooked without haste, fats were avoided and the cooking points of meat and fish were measured with watchmaker's precision. She was a self-taught chef, although she acknowledged that she learned from her father, who was a master in the kitchen.
kitchen. Her cannelloni and fricandó formed part of the cook's taste memory. But Montse Seguí's courses were also very useful for her, as she had said on more than one occasion.
In these forty-one years of Roig Robí -the name was chosen after discarding others and refers to a color of wine tastings, Mercè has always been present.
First between pans, then directing the stoves, finally discreetly controlling that everything worked. These years, at midday, she sat at a table next to the kitchen, always impeccably dressed, and greeted the clientele.

She didn't have it easy. She was born in Olesa de Montserrat 88 years ago and came to Barcelona with her family at the age of 15. She was the eldest of four siblings and, as she had to help out at home, she was the only one who did not study for a degree. She married young, had a large family and after their separation she found the strength to make a living. She started a kindergarten, but finally decided to go into gastronomy. It was what she was best at.
And she built a culinary universe that has made many people happy. Her children wanted the memorial to include a phrase with which Ima Sanchís titled La Contra in 2007: “I have been happy making those I love happy”.In recent years she was proud of the magnificent relationship with both her friends and her children, convinced that we must take care of relationships, demanding the right things and giving affection.
To Cristina Jolonch she confessed in an interview with this newspaper: “I am happy to have reached this point as I am. And I think that feeling happy makes me feel better. I would never have imagined that I would have such a balanced old age as the one I am living”.

This Wednesday she left us quietly, so as not to disturb. With a smile on her face, for having found the formula for happiness, although no one gave her anything: “Over the years you learn that things do not affect you too much; neither good things last forever, nor bad things either”.
We will miss her, but her memory will always be with us. Especially when we bite into those impeccable cod fritters - light and subtle - that invite us to eat them slowly, closing our eyes.

La Vanguardia
26 febrero 2022
Cristina Jolonch
Photo Cesar Rangel