I made pesto with Mauro Colagreco on the French Riviera, drank centuries-old wine with the Roca Brothers in Girona, and ate custom tasting menus at two of the planet's hardest-to-book restaurants.

By Maria Yagoda
Updated September 10, 2019
Credit: Camila Gutiérrez

So many of the world's best restaurants feel inaccessible, whether due to distance, cost, or sheer impossibility of booking. Mirazur, Mauro Colagreco's world-renowned restaurant on the French Riviera, can book up a year out—as can El Celler de Can Roca, the avant-garde Catalonian institution that launched the Roca Brothers (Jordi, Josep, and Joan) into culinary super-stardom. But there are a few sneaky workarounds—not only for nabbing seats at tables, but also for getting access to the chefs themselves and experiencing one-off tasting menus, masterclasses, and personal tours. By Invitation Only, a program of events for American Express Platinum Card holders, offers an impressive roster of dinners that come with super-rare access to many of the best restaurants in the world, as well as their chefs, gardens, wine cellars, and kitchens.

Credit: El Celler de Can Roca

This summer, I attended two By Invitation Only culinary events that were bucket-list material; I dined with Mauro Colagreco and the Roca Brothers at their restaurants, with hours-long tasting menus, creative beverage pairings, and seminars. On the French Riviera in sunny Menton, I joined chef Colagreco at his three Michelin-starred restaurant for cocktails, bubbles, and bites; an interactive (and wonderfully fragrant) pesto-making tutorial that made my arms sore; and an intimate tour of the restaurant's breathtaking seaside garden, all followed by a multi-course and wine-paired Mediterranean meal overlooking the bright blue French Riviera. (Mirazur, named the world’s best restaurant 2019 by World's 50 Best, has the most stunning dining room panorama I've ever seen.)

Colagreco even tasted my pesto genovese, which, as you'll see below, made me very nervous. He approved.

Mauro Colagreco
Credit: By Invitation Only

With just one night to recover from the eating and drinking whirlwind at Mirazur, I journeyed to Girona, Spain, for an afternoon and evening at El Celler de Can Roca, where I attended a cooking master class with head chef, Joan, and a wine tasting with head sommelier, Josep. Following kitchen and wine cellar tours, guests gathered for a reception in the garden (with gorgeous hors d'oeuvres, including a "starfish" of pork rind with prawn and grapefruit, and truffled brioche), followed by an extensive multi-course tasting menu at the restaurant, which has twice been ranked the best restaurant on the planet by World’s 50 Best.

The word "extravaganza" doesn't even begin to do the meal justice; the menu kicked off with a playful edible tribute to the brothers' childhood (they were raised just around the corner, working at their parents' restaurant): the dish, called "Memories of a bar in the suburbs of Girona," included squids, kidneys with Sherry, gentian and orange bonbon, Montse’s meat cannelloni, and code brandade. Josep's beverage pairings, which included over twenty wines and a sake, beer, and fantastic house-bottle-aged negroni, matched the sophistication and playfulness of the cuisine.

El Celler de Can Roca
Credit: El Celler de Can Roca

On September 17, By Invitation Only is offering a "Root to Stem" dinner in Brooklyn with the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov, and on September 21, an exclusive dinner at Noma in Copenhagan, with interactive daytime experiences with René Redzepi and the Noma team, brunch at the waterfront restaurant Barr, a boat cruise to Noma, hands-on tours of the fermentation lab and test kitchen, and a multi-course tasting menu at Noma. (Prices for events tend to hover around the $1000 area, but check the site for more details on tickets.)

American Express also offers Platinum Card and Centurion Members access to chefs and restaurants through their Global Dining Collecion, which includes Mirazur, El Celler de Can Roca, and more top restaurants around the world, with chef partners including Massimo Bottura, Stephanie Izard, Daniel Humm, José Andrés, and Virgilio Martinez. This year, American Express doubled down on their commitment to dining by acquiring Resy, the online reservations platform; all Amex cardholders will have access to the new Resy event series, which includes events like "Resy Presents Secret Special with Danny Bowien & Friends" and "The Women Of Food, London."