A few years ago, I read about EatWith, a concept where local people in cities across the world cook for groups at their homes. It’s a way to try different cuisines, meet new people and if you’re traveling, meet some locals. The cooks tend to be amateur chefs, often people that don’t want to deal with the stress or overhead of owning their own restaurant.
I can’t remember what prompted me to look into it in Barcelona, but they have a ton of options here. I started sorting through them to find one that sounded good, had great reviews and was willing to work around my aversion to anything coming from the water. Enter Tapas with Papa.
Camille, Catherine and I signed up to spend an evening with Joel Serra and 23 strangers for a 5-course dinner on “Papa Serra’s” rooftop.
When we got to his apartment building, we saw another group, looking slightly confused, waiting for the elevator and figured they were some of our dinner mates. We opted for the stairs and sure enough, we met them on the 4th floor. Joel’s apartment has an incredible rooftop patio, with a view of La Catederal in the distance. The hanging lights, vermouth welcome drink and table setting would have made my mom proud:
As we sipped our vermouth, it was a bit awkward being at a cocktail party with complete strangers. But hey, I’ve been in odder situations . . . like traveling Europe with strangers. Or thinking I was interviewing for Washington Mutual when it was actually Western Union. . . twice. Or going to a wedding where I knew no one except the bride, groom and my ex-boyfriend, who brought his new girlfriend. But I digress.
As we sat down, we started chatting with those on our end of the table and discovered everyone was from Germany. Thinking that was a bit odd, we asked about the German-invasion at Papa Serra’s house and it turns out, our very own chef was actually a German documentary star! It aired in April and apparently ever since, his weekly dinner draws a largely German attendance. I did a bit of googling and found the documentary, but unfortunately it has no subtitles. If anyone knows German and wants to learn about Papa Serra/Joel, here you go. For the rest of us, here’s a quick synopsis of the documentary that you can have google automatically translate into English for you.
(Quick side note: for anyone traveling to a foreign country, you have to download the Google Translate app. Not only can you translate any language, you can hover your camera over text and it automatically translates it for you. It comes in handy when you’re trying to decipher a menu. Or bake a cake.)
After making friends with all of our German dinner-mates, the conversation flowed much easier and we had the best time! Before starting dinner, Joel came out to introduce himself, the concept of EatWith and what we would be having. He’s actually Tasmanian and has lived in Barcelona for the last four years. He has a great accent and is quite attractive:
Joel served up five incredible courses as well as many bottles of wine . . . which he got from the local bodega.
Course One: Pan con tomate (grilled or toasted bread with tomato rubbed on, drizzled with olive oil and salt. This is a very typical Catalan appetizer and one I’d highly recommend) Olives (including ones Joel made himself). Quince paste with Manchego and goat cheeses.
Course Two: White gazpacho with green grapes, Marcona almonds and basil olive oil.
Course Three: Roasted chicken and butifarra sausage with curry hummus and salad. Butifarra is another very Catalan dish, which is the best-tasting sausage I’ve ever had.
Course Four: Roasted eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes and roasted peppers with rosemary and a basil sauce (everyone else had fish but Joel nicely substituted eggplant for me)
Course Five: Pound cake with fresh figs, whipped cream and shaved chocolate.
Everything was absolutely incredible! And the most amazing part? Papa Serra made all of this in his tiny galley kitchen!
When we signed up, the website indicated that dinner would be about 2.5 hours. 5 hours later, at 1:30am, I finally got home. I still had to pack for my weekend trip to Portugal with a wake-up call of 5:15. It’s a good thing the dinner was so fun and delicious; I didn’t even mind the lack of sleep.
I would highly recommend trying an EatWith, it was such a cool experience. And if you’re ever in Barcelona, absolutely do Tapas with Papa!
Please notice the long sleeves. This is the first, and only, night that it’s been somewhat cool since the middle of June. And by cool I mean below 80 degrees.
Papa Serra also has a cookbook that looks excellent. I was going to purchase one, but realized carrying it home would probably put my bag over the weight limit and figured I better just order it when I get home.
PS: The other day, I tried another bodega to fill up my 1.5-liter water bottle, Bodega Maestrazgo, and ran into Joel. He was getting ready for his rooftop dinner the next night. We chatted a bit, he invited me to try another one of his dinners before I left Barcelona and he gave me the Euro-double kiss as both a hello and goodbye. I was not sad about it!