Celebrating Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s 20th Anniversary: A Four Hands Dinner Between Nerua (Josean Alija) and El Celler de Can Roca (Joan Roca)

So happy to have been part of the Four Hands dinner between Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona Spain, and Josean Alija of Nerua at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao! (L-R): Joan Roca, Stefania Giordano (Josean's wife and also Nerua's maitre), me and Josean Alija

In celebration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s 20th anniversary this year, host restaurant Nerua (1 Michelin star; No. 56 best restaurant in the world) is celebrating with a series of very special Four Hands dinners by host chef Josean Alija, along with Bruno Oteiza (Biko, Mexico – February), Joan Roca (El Celler de Can Roca, Spain – May), Mauro Colagreco (Mirazur, France – June), and Virgilio Martinez (Central, Peru – September). The series is called Ongietorri, which means “welcome” in Basque. All dinners sold out in 20 minutes! (But you can still try for waitlist.)

It was a huge honor for me to have been part of the very special Four Hands Dinner between Nerua’s Josean Alija and Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca (3 Michelin stars; No. 3 in the world; they were No. 1 in in 2014 and 2015). You guys might remember that we did two Cross Cultures dinners with Nerua in the Philippines at Gallery Vask– a Four Hands one in 2016, and a 10 Hands one just last April– and I first experienced Joan Roca’s cooking at Restaurant Andre in Singapore in 2014. I was stoked!!! Plus, it was my first time in Bilbao, too– which is going to be where the 2018 World’s 50 Best Restaurants will be taking place– so exciting!

One night only: Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (3 Michelin Stars, No. 3 restaurant in the world) cooking at Nerua Guggenheim Museum Bilbao along with host chef Josean Alija
One night only: Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (3 Michelin Stars, No. 3 restaurant in the world) cooking at Nerua Guggenheim Museum Bilbao along with host chef Josean Alija

The evening began with sunset cocktails and Basque appetizers (txakinarto corn broth, cod torrezno with paprika, emmental cheese and iberian bellota ham croquette, and grillo) at the Nerua terrace overlooking the Nervion River– which I think has one of the best views of this part of Bilbao!

The evening began with beautiful sunset cocktails on the Nerua rooftop (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
The evening began with beautiful sunset cocktails on the Nerua rooftop (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
With Paris-based writer Carmen Vazquez :)
With Paris-based writer Carmen “Ella”  Vazquez :)
French journalist Camille Labro (Le Monde/ M Magazine World/ Vogue Paris) surveys the snacks served at the rooftop. (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
French journalist Camille Labro (Le Monde/ M Magazine World/ Vogue Paris) surveys the snacks served at the rooftop. (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)

While Joan and Josean have cooked together before at events, this was their first Four Hands dinner. Joan had brought in several of El Celler de Can Roca’s signature dishes, choosing the ones he thought would best complement Josean’s cuisine– which he says he “likes very much”– in order to give it one seamless idea. Josean on the other hand, created a special menu with new Nerua dishes, just for the evening, of course, in line with Joan’s.

While Josean Alija and Joan Roca have cooked together before at various food events, this is their first Four Hands dinner together. (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
While Josean Alija and Joan Roca have cooked together before at various food events, this is their first Four Hands dinner together. (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
Ongietorri means "welcome" in Basque country, which is the theme of Nerua's series of Four Hands dinners. The menus were signed by Joan and Josean. (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
Ongietorri means “welcome” in Basque country, which is the theme of Nerua’s series of Four Hands dinners. The menus were signed by Joan and Josean. (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
The menu for the evening
The menu for the evening
The dining room situation. Notice that Frank Gehry-designed chairs, in line with the museum which was designed by him.
The dining room situation. Notice that Frank Gehry-designed chairs, in line with the museum which was designed by him.
A beautiful start: Spring vegetable stock with vegetable emulsion, carrots, baby broad beans, flat beans, flowers and leaves by Joan Roca / El Celler de Can Roca (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
A beautiful start: Spring vegetable stock with vegetable emulsion, carrots, baby broad beans, flat beans, flowers and leaves by Joan Roca / El Celler de Can Roca (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
'Lagrima peas', which were in season during the time of the dinner, with Swiss cahrd juice and chili pepper by Josean Alija/ Nerua (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
‘Lagrima peas’, which were in season during the time of the dinner, with Swiss cahrd juice and chili pepper by Josean Alija/ Nerua (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
Joan Roca and the El Celler de Can Roca team (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
Joan Roca and the El Celler de Can Roca team (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
Another one from Joan Roca/ El Celler de Can Roca: Mackerel with tempeh of "ganxet" beans, which had hints of Indonesian flavors (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
Another one from Joan Roca/ El Celler de Can Roca: Mackerel with tempeh of “ganxet” beans, which had hints of Indonesian flavors (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
Cooking together: Nerua x El Celler de Can Roca <3 (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
Cooking together: Nerua x El Celler de Can Roca (Photo by Miguel Tona- MTVisuals)

My favorite dish from Joan that evening was El Celler de Can Roca’s signature deconstructed Palamos prawn dish. The prawn was marinated in vinegar, the head turned into a sauce, legs fried– everything is edible. While the product is from Catalunya, the flavors are Asian-inspired. ‘The idea is local product, global inspiration,’ shared Joan.

My personal favorite El Celler de Can Roca dish for the evening was their mindblowing signature deconstructed Palamos prawn dish- where all parts of the prawn are edible.(Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
My personal favorite El Celler de Can Roca dish for the evening was their mindblowing signature deconstructed Palamos prawn dish- where all parts of the prawn are edible.(Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)

As for Josean’s dishes, my personal favorite that night was the cod kokotxa with grilled velvet crab and pilpil. Kokotxa in pilpil sauce is a Basque specialty. At Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao, Josean Alija elevates this with sophistication. Every dining experience at the restaurant will see different versions, sometimes using cod, sometimes hake, with different sauces and techniques. That night, Josean used only be skin of the cod kokotxa, using its gelatin to make a sauce–  or rather a pilpil emulsion– along with crab corals – garlic, cayenne and olive oil, giving it a beautiful mildly spicy flavor.

And my fave Nerua dish for the evening was the cod kokotxa with grilled velvet crab and pilpil. (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
And my fave Nerua dish for the evening was the cod kokotxa with grilled velvet crab and pilpil. (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)

Accompanying them were an interesting range of wines, which Nerua sommelier Ismael Alvarez consulted with El Celler de Can Roca sommelier Josep Roca for the pairings. These included txakoli from Itsasmendi, a white Rioja from Felix Azpilicueta, a dark pink Felix Azpilicueta Coleccion Privada Rosado 2016 (rose) with meat– they wanted to challenge themselves– and a special 1964 Campo Viejo Reserva which they opened in honor of Joan’s birth date.

Nerua sommelier Ismael Alvarez is a gem. He never fails to thoroughly explain the backgrounds of the wines he choses- and why he does (they always have to have history). This is a 1964 Campo Viejo Reserva which they opened in honor of Joan Roca's birthdate.
Nerua sommelier Ismael Alvarez is a gem. He never fails to thoroughly explain the backgrounds of the wines he chooses- and why he does (they always have to have history). This is a 1964 Campo Viejo Reserva which they opened in honor of Joan Roca’s birthdate.
Rose paired with meat-- El Celler de Can Roca's veal oyster blade with marrow and tendons-- as Nerua sommelier Ismael explained they wanted to "challenge" themselves. (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
Rose paired with meat– El Celler de Can Roca’s veal oyster blade with marrow and tendons– as Nerua sommelier Ismael explained they wanted to “challenge” themselves. (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
Shacked milk casein with strawberry ice cream and violet meringue by Nerua/ Josean Alija (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
Shacked milk casein with strawberry ice cream and violet meringue by Nerua/ Josean Alija (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)
Josean Alija comes out to say hello to the guests, which include Gari Rios of Itsasmendi, one of the best producers of txakoli. His Itsasmendi N. 7 and Artizar 2012 were served that evening. (Photo by Miguel Toña - MTVisuals)
Josean Alija comes out to say hello to the guests, which include Gari Rios of Itsasmendi, one of the best producers of txakoli. His Itsasmendi N. 7 and Artizar 2012 were served that evening. (Photo by Miguel Toña – MTVisuals)

It was a beautiful dinner that saw two friends cooking together to complement each other’s dishes, and a hospitality that had both visiting and host restaurant in tandem to make all 65 guests happy (and full)! It was a seamless flow of dishes and ideas that communicated how both chefs truly respect and enjoy each other’s cuisines and philosophies.

Awww <3 <3 <3
Awww <3 <3 <3

Also in attendance was Minister of Tourism, Trade and Consumer Affairs for Basque Country (Euskadi) Alfredo Retortillo. It was a great honor to meet him, and I’m excited about Bilbao’s new growing tourism! (Apart from World’s 50 Best to be held there next year, Game of Thrones Season 7 also takes place here (San Juan de Gaztelugatxe)– and the cast celebrated Emilia Clarke’s (Daeneyrs) birthday in Nerua not long ago!)

Happy 20th birthday, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and happy 6th birthday Nerua! Thank you for such a fabulous event. <3

Thank you so much Nerua and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and congratulations!! (PS The restaurant is right next to the Maman spider by Louise Bourgeois)
Thank you so much Nerua and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and congratulations!! (PS The restaurant is right next to the Maman spider by Louise Bourgeois)