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“This is the best Compte ever!” beamed Mauro Colagreco, chef of Mirazur, located along the French Riviera in Menton, France and recently ranked the number one restaurant in the world by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2019. He placed a plate of sliced 36-month aged, extra firm Compte on the table speckled with those tantalizing crystals found in beautifully aged cheeses. After we savored our first bite with its notable nutty flavor, we all hummed in unified agreement. Chef Colagreco was on point.
And that’s how we began our first day exploring one of American Express’ By Invitation Only Platinum card key benefits via their Global Dining Collection—a program individually curated by the world’s most outstanding chefs with exclusive reservation access and experiences at their award-winning restaurants. Additional Global Dining Collection star chefs include Daniel Humm, Massimo Bottura, the Roca Brothers, Nobu Matsuhisa, Daniel Boulud, and Alain Ducasse, among others.
Our journey continued through the afternoon sipping on Pigato out of a barrel situated in one of chef Colagreco’s favorite vineyards Tenuta Selvadolce, a biodynamics winery located in Bordighera bordering France and Italy. Overlooking the rolling hills into the tranquil Ligurian Sea, Selvadolce owner Aris Blancardi noted, “Monet once lived here for two years saying this place drove him crazy because he was unable to capture the beauty in his paintings.”
Chef Colagreco's American Express dining experience offered guests a personal cooking class co-creating homemade pesto and wood-oven baked socca. This was followed by a tour of his glorious, tri-level home garden minutes walk from his Mirazur restaurant. Shortly thereafter, guests sat down to a Mediterranean, multi-course tasting where ingredients were locally sourced for dishes such as shaved zucchini masking San Remo Gamberoni with Osciètre caviar and fresh almonds paired with wines such as Sancerre X-Elis Domaine Gitton 2012. The trip concluded with a tour of chef Colagreco’s kitchen while chatting about the inspiration behind his first-class dishes. It truly was a momentous day, which many including myself would deem priceless.
But each American Express Global Dining Collection chef has designed quite different immersive programs. Further south in the town of Girona, Spain is twice ranked No. 1 restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca, run by the three highly acclaimed Roca brothers. First, head chef and eldest brother Joan Roca demonstrated a master class in cooking dishes reminiscent of their childhood but with a modern take, such as a pan-seared, cube of lamb sandwiched between two slices of pan con tomate (bread with tomato). Next, a geographical lesson in wine tasting with head sommelier Joseph Roca where guests had the opportunity to taste an 1805 González Byass Trafalgar Sherry from Jerez aged to the consistency of molasses. Appetizers were then served in their modernistic garden juxtaposing that of the surrounding town intelligently mimicking the same dynamic of the passed bites of green olive-shaped ice cream spheres dangling from miniature potted trees. We were then given a tour of the wine cellar as well as the kitchen to see first hand the team of chefs preparing the evening’s intricate menu including those of head pastry chef and youngest brother, Jordi Roca, renowned for his artistically innovative dessert episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table.
The grand finale led us through an extensive, 17-course tasting. The Rocas brother commenced the dinner with two interactive dishes, which immediately captured our attention. First, “Memories of a bar in the suburbs of Girona” where paper cutouts of The Rocas brothers overlook five of their favorite childhood tapas including Cod Brandade and Montse’s meat Cannelloni paired with La Garrofera Cerveza, an exquisite artisanal beer created in-house by El Cellar. Second, and perhaps the most renowned dish from the restaurant is “The World.” Each diner receives their own globe with five protruding arms each holding a bite from the countries which have most influenced the chefs including Mexico, Singapore, Egypt, Turkey, and Peru. A surprise awaits for those who are able to guess which tapa belongs to Singapore and Peru. With the correct swing of an arm, the globe pops open to reveal a delicate gelée sphere of edible seawater filled with caviar. The rest of the courses may be less theatrical but equally wow in flavor and presentation.
Unless you had an in with one of these chefs, it would be quite impossible to make dining arrangements of this caliber. It’s remarkable seeing first-hand the experiences American Express has created for their Platinum card members who’s annual card fee runs for $550 and $1,500 for tickets to one of these once-in-a-lifetime, three-Michelin-Star itineraries with typically only 40 seats per event.
“Our relationship with American Express has spanned over several years and it allows us to do things in a different manner,” noted chef Joan Roca. “We travel worldwide to cook and offer the possibility to organize out of the box events like today. The guests experience El Celler in a very different way because we have the chance to explain what we do and how we conceptualize what we do.”
On October 12, By Invitation Only is offering Platinum Card and Centurion Members a "Game & Forest Season" exclusive experience at world-renowned Noma with chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen before it’s available to the public. The full-day journey includes brunch at the waterfront restaurant Barr, a boat cruise to Noma, hands-on tours of the fermentation lab and test kitchen, concluding with a multi-course tasting menu at Noma. Otherwise if you are in New York on Nov 1-2, chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana will be at the St. Regis New York conducting a discussion on his non-profit Food for Soul in addition to an exclusive multi-course tasting menu and wine pairing. Two very epic experiences with epic chefs not to be missed.