Coques from Pla del Penedès: a huge hit in Los Angeles thanks to Jean Leon

Discovering Jean Leon


Josep and his father made the best coques de sucre in the entire county. [A coca de sucre, coques in plural, is a sugar-topped flatbread popular in Catalonia.] Everybody said so. They left an impression, even on Jean Leon. “In the summer, when he came to Penedès, he’d stop by the bakery every day to buy bread and coca. He loved it,” remarks Josep Colomé, the son of Rossend, who owned a bakery in Pla del Penedès that had been around for over 100 years. Jean Leon loved them so much that one day he told Rossend that he wanted to make the coques at his restaurant in Los Angeles. Said and done. “He invited my father and his assistant to spend a week in the US and show his staff how to make the coques that delighted the entire county.” Josep still remembers the trip clearly. It was August 1986. He was 28 years old and in charge of the business while his father was away. “It wasn’t a problem for me. I was young and had a lot of responsibility, but by then I'd learned how everything worked.”

Their coques were a huge hit in star-studded Los Angeles. The bread, however, didn't catch on. “They didn't have the tools to make it the same way as here, and it didn't turn out well,” admits Colomé. The complete opposite of the coca, which was wildly successful. “It was a bread-dough coca with anise and sugar. We made the dough using a direct system that was very fast. It had a very particular taste that made it unique.”

Food writer Colmand Andrews even decided to include the recipe for the coques of Pla del Penedès in one of his cookbooks. “He visited the bakery to get detailed insights into how the coca was made and learn about its secrets, and he included the recipe in his book. We were really proud to be a part of it.” The coca not only captivated Andrews, but also drew the interest of the American press, and the local Penedès paper 3 de Vuit featured it on the front page.

Colomé says his father liked Jean Leon's wines and that they kept in touch after his trip to the US. “My father really liked Jean Leon's wines. They were very good.” He has a clear recollection of the early days of the Jean Leon winery, which were not easy. “People here thought he was crazy,” Josep recalls, referring to Jean Leon's decision to replace local cultivars with French varieties, “But as time went on, and the winery became well established, and Jean Leon went on to achieve great things, they eventually admitted he was right. He revolutionized the region.”

Asked whether anyone makes coques like his today, Colomé acknowledges that “some bakeries still make them, but with slight differences. For example, the bakery in Torrelavit adds margarine, and ours was bread dough, plain and simple.”

Listening to Josep talk made us really eager to try the famous coca. We hope that one day we can convince him to make us one. If we succeed, we'll tell you all about it! ;)

Categorías: Discovering Jean Leon