Josean Alija

crediti: Brambilla - Serrani

crediti: Brambilla - Serrani

Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao

avenida Abandoibarra
T. +34.94.4000430

There are chefs happy to live in the present, and others that try to escape it as soon as they wake up. Professionals of the known and of the unknown. Some love to fry in the warm currents of mainstream cuisine, others who would rather be chilled at -20 °C and be born again on a distant planet. In the contemporary fine dining scene, Josean Alija surely belongs to the second group. It’s the circle, much smaller than the first, in which true innovative chefs work, those who are at ease only when outside their comfort zone.

Not that El Jefe, born in 1978, does not belong to our times: restaurant Nerua preserves first of all in its name – Nervia is the ancestor of Nervión, the affluent that divides Bilbao – some strong traces of the past. And the pillar of the culinary tradition of Bilbao, which pairs vegetable sauces with meat or fish, is respected every day since December 21st 1998, when our chef made his very first entrance under the titanium plates of the Guggenheim.

However, one must stress that there’s a strong coherence between the most revolutionary museum of the past few decades and the Copernican revolution that this young man began with ingredients: the binary vegetable/fish or meat register is indeed repeated, but now the animal proteins are almost always relegated to the role of sauce or stock, setting the basic rhythm of the dish. Meanwhile, vegetables finally have the main role, they are the lead guitar after decades (centuries, millennia) of being confined to the kingdom of side dishes and tolerable food.

This is the most surprising aspect of Alija’s style, who is "Very happy", he says, to develop his pasión especial for the extraordinary vegetables "and develop their unexpressed potential", an exploration of "flavours, aromas, textures and colours” with the ultimate goal of "stimulating emotions in guests". All his dishes are conceived and finished in a special way. The first creative act will look at every ingredient under a different perspective: with coffee, for instance, he’s not interested in the toasted bean, but in the plant from which it comes from (which he used to make a spectacular green broth). The final move will hide the great technical skills behind seeming simplicity, behind a sharp beauty and a very tidy anarchy of colours from few ingredients.

Like all the chefs who live on the edge of trends, Josean is not supported by widespread critical favour. It’s incredible, for instance, that Nerua has one and not three Michelin stars (and in fact the only star arrived very late, in 2011). For sure, you’ll never hear him complain about it. Not even should the acknowledgement arrive in 10 years’ time. "I only hope I’ll be able to cook with the same illusions as today. Always enjoying new discoveries and being able to share them".

(from L'Uomo Vogue)

Has participated in

Identità Milano


Gabriele Zanatta

born in Milan, 1973, freelance journalist, coordinator of Identità Golose World restaurant guidebook since 2007, he is a contributor for several magazines and teaches History of gastronomy and Culinary global trends into universities and institutes. 
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