Perhaps the biggest regret I had during my recent trip to Spain was not to being able to dine at Mugaritz in San Sebastian. The two-Michelin star, the sixth best restaurant in the world was closed for business the time I was there.
So imagine my euphoria when I learned that Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz himself was doing a one-night only four-hands dinner at Gallery Vask with Chele Gonzalez, one of my favorite chefs in Manila. Ayayay. If something is meant for you, you need not travel halfway around the world to look for it, because the kitchen from halfway across the globe will come to you! Thanks, of course, to Madrid Fusion Manila.
Chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery Vask enjoying a cocktail before dinner service
Chefs Andoni Aduriz and Julieta Caruso in Gallery Vask kitchen
So you see, Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz and I, we were really meant to be.
I had been giddy with excitement ever since I listened to him speak at the International Gastronomy Congress at SMX last April 25. I was enamored by his wisdom, humility and great sense of humor. Incidentally, his talk and Chele’s were the ones I truly enjoyed the most. Andoni inspired the audience by his simple but genuine pieces of advice, which apply not only in the kitchen but also in every aspect of our lives: Practice until it becomes a habit. Always question yourself. Have ambitious goals, dream big, aim high – real high – and work hard. Have passion. Be eager to learn and be consistent. Be sincere and honest. Amen!!! And our dear Chele, he warmed every Filipino heart out there with stories about his travels around the Philippines, where he found not only ingredients and techniques, but people, relationships, and farmers who have become his friends. This Spanish-by-blood, Filipino-by-heart chef champions our local ingredients and strives to bring our local cuisine up the next level. Andoni and Chele are both giants in their fields, and what a dream come true to be able to sit down and let my palate be pampered by the tandem!
As soon as we were comfortably settled in our seats, they served us stones.
Yes, on a bed of sand laid smooth gray rocks that were to be eaten with our bare hands, instructed the jolly darling of a manager Jose Ramon who flew in all the way from Spain with the Mugaritz team.
Mugaritz Manager Jose Ramon instructing us to eat with our hands
One bite revealed a pleasant surprise - underneath the edible clay was a perfectly cooked potato!
Andoni’s playfulness garnered oohs and ahhs across the room.
Next came Chele’s take on the isaw, a popular Filipino street food of intestines on stick. He used shrimp paste cooked over charcoal in lieu of offal to recreate this local delicacy. Nothing was what they seemed at this dinner. Each of the eighteen courses was a process of discovery and wonder.
The “Belly of the Monk” macaron was an impeccable balance of sweet and salty. Foie gras cream sandwiched between two cookies made with… wait for it… pig’s blood! This could give the famous French macaron brands a run for their money.
"Belly of the Monk" Macaron
My favorite of Andoni’s dishes, however, had to be the kokotxa. The throat of cod was served in two different textures, a soft and gelatinous slice in between thin and crisp kokotxa crackers. As with all the courses that came before, our server asked us to grab a whole piece and eat with our hands.
(Several layers of dressed kokotxas)
I devoured the next dish, layers of torched pork belly on toast, with abandon – crumbs everywhere the table and oil trickling down my chin, but I had no care. The fat glistened enticingly at me and I showed it no mercy.
Course Bite of Torched Pork Belly and Fresh Herbs
The plate that blew me away was the tiradito by Chele. How a simple yellowfin tuna kinilaw topped with arosep seaweed could taste so exquisite left me in complete awe. Every bite was fresh and bright and left me wanting more.
Equally incredible was the buro, a humble Filipino dish that Chele elevated into a whole new level. The maya-maya was perfectly moist and tender, its skin savory and crunchy, and the fermented rice as flavorful as could be. It was pure joy to see the Spanish man at our table polish off every last bit of it.
Then there were oysters covered in sayote and okra seeds, sea urchin and beer clams in foie gras powder, crab with vegetable mucilage, shredded cochinillo in a sour broth made with the magical alibangbang leaf, wagyu beef with herb sauce and lime, and a mound of caviar for the lucky winner of the guessing game!
Threads of Crab with Vegetable Mucilage, Macadamias and Pink Peppercorns
Revealing the number
8 is the correct answer!
A generous mound of caviar awarded to the winner
Thank you, Angelo, for sharing your prize!
My milk cream on toast topped with caviar
The Cow and the Grass
The creamy taho was a real delight. I normally buy this soy dessert off the streets and drink it from paper cups. Having it in a test tube that evening, its silky tofu made with goat’s milk and topped with muscovado tapioca and ginger perfume, made my heart soar.
What these geniuses do is simply extraordinary. Every little detail is meticulously planned, every sense of every diner engaged throughout the meal. Andoni and Chele understand that eating is not anymore just about the food. It is also about emotions, memories, surprises, interaction, and magic. And this magical four-hands dinner at Gallery Vask is an experience I will remember for years and years.
Unforgettable moment sandwiched between Chefs Chele Gonzalez
and Andoni Aduriz
Stephanie Zubiri, Jean Salonga-Fernando, Pamela Cortez, Cheryl Tiu and Carlo Calma