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5 Questions with Chef Josean Alija of Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao

Here's what's happening with the former elBulli chef.
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Spanish chef Josean Ajila, formerly of elBulli and now running the one-Michelin-starred Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao, is renowned for his in-depth research and analysis on the origins and properties of ingredients and incorporates his findings at his titanium-clad restaurant.

Here, we catch up with the lauded chef about his day-to-day and what we can find in his home fridge.

Alija presented this light and tart tomato appetizer dish as part of a recent collaboration dinner with Odette in Singapore. (Credit: Nerua)
Alija presented this light and tart tomato appetizer dish as part of a recent collaboration dinner with Odette in Singapore. (Credit: Nerua)
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What is your favourite season for produce?

It is very difficult to say because the seasons are very different from each other. The magic of the seasonality lies in getting exceptional quality of the products. Working with the seasons gives me a chance to work well with a lot of products throughout the year, or else it gets very boring.

What ingredients are you currently incorporating in the menu at Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao?

We are working on a couple of ingredients that are unique to us—especially vegetables. One of them is called "tears pea" from the Basque Country that contains sweet water. The tiny pea explodes in your mouth like caviar. We are also using little green beans that have a lot of chlorophyll. It gives a ton of freshness in your mouth as it doesn't contain much starch.

You’re known for doing in-depth research and analysis on your products. What are you researching now?


Recently we have been experimenting with house-made tofu, dried fruits and nuts, and koji (fermented rice). We plan to use these ingredients in moderation to see how they work out in our dishes. We are also experimenting to see how salt can change the flavors and textures of fish. I am also interested in using a part of the fish head that is very gelatinous and fatty.

We plan the menu one year in advance so I am preparing the menu for the next year's spring season. We usually come up with 70 to 80 dishes for each season.
Nerua is located in the Guggenheim Museum in the culinary city of Bilbao in Spain. (Photo: Andoni Epelde)
Nerua is located in the Guggenheim Museum in the culinary city of Bilbao in Spain. (Photo: Andoni Epelde)
Are there any trends in the culinary world that excite you?

I am not the guy that looks out for what’s trending. Instead, I always adapt to what’s current to create a good dining experience. It has to make sense in my menu. For example, for the summer season, I want to showcase more spicy and acidic flavors that are not so common in my traditional style of cooking.

What is always in your home fridge?

Wine, ham and anchovies. I do not spend a lot of time at home so there are not many fresh ingredients in the fridge. If I need to cook at home, I will buy what I need from the grocery shops and use them up for the meal.
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