Joan Roca and Josean Alija at Nerua. Bilbao. 24th May 2017

Spring vegetable stock, vegetable emulsion, carrot, baby broad beans, flat beans, flowers and leaves (Joan Roca)
‘Lagrima’ peas, Swiss chard juice and chili pepper (Josean Alija)
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Shrimp soup, curry and “nata de coco” (Josean Alija)
Mackerel with tempeh of “ganxet” beans (Joan Roca)
Prawn marinated with rice vinegar, head juice, crispy prawn legs, seaweed veloute and phytoplankton (Joan Roca)
Cod kokotxa, grilled velvet crab and pilpil (Josean Alija) Photo: courtesy of Nerua
Lobster head (Josean Alija)
Duck foie gras, carrots and makil goxo (Josean Alija)
Veal oyster blade with St. George’s mushroom, marrow, tendons and avocado (Joan Roca)
Shacked milk casein, strawberry ice-cream and violet meringue (Josean Alija)
Vanilla, caramel, liquorice, dried and caramelised black olives (Joan Roca)
Mochi de bollo de mantequilla (by Josean Alija). Photo: courtesy of Nerua
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Small pastry

Twenty years ago, Bilbao has been an industrial city. The city management was visionary enough to understand that times require a change, so their mission was to transform the heart and soul of their city. They knew Guggenheim was looking for a location to open another museum and they saw this as a great opportunity for a transition from an industrial city to a cultural destination. There were many offers on the Guggenheim’s table – many cities were competing with projects developed by some of the world’s best architects. Bilbao was the winner. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim museum became one of the most legendary buildings worldwide, and the building itself and the stunning art collection exhibited in its spaces transformed the shape and character of Bilbao forever. After 20 years Bilbao has a new soul and a new look.

The Guggenheim Bilbao at night

The visionary people behind the Bilbao project knew that art needs to be enriched also with other activities, so they wanted to reshape also the food scene in the new Bilbao. San Sebastian, which is only about an hour away, was already a culinary destination, Bilbao had to follow. Josean Alija was twenty years ago already one of the most promising young chefs, so the decision to invite him to open a restaurant at Guggenheim was a great one. At that time Josean’s restaurant was in the place of today’s Guggenheim bistro, later on, when his cuisine and the city developed further, a new, more sophisticated place was needed and so six years ago Nerua as we know it today, was born. Success of Guggenheim Bilbao and Nerua walk hand in hand – both are world famous institutions – one in art, another in the culinary world.

The teams of Nerua and El Celler de Can Roca after the spectacular dinner

To celebrate twenty years of Guggenheim and six years of Nerua are the teams of both organising a series of collaboration dinners between Josean Alija and his colleagues, some of the world’s best chefs. I was lucky to attend one of those dinners – it was in May when Joan Alija shared his kitchen with Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, the famous 3-Michelin starred restaurant from Girona in Spain (No.3 on World’s 50 best restaurants 2017).

Joan Roca

The dinner was composed like a spectacular symphony where different stunningly beautiful, sometimes very contrastful yet harmonic, movements perfectly played together to create a fabulous unity. The deep minimalistic approach of Josean, where flavours radiate intensity and purity was amazingly played against Joan’s colourful compositions with lots of structure and distinctive flavours. Two of the world’s greatest culinary masters created a magical night, which was accompanied by some really exceptional wines, like this lady of a venerable age pictured below. 53 years old (vintage 1964 – “the vintage of the century”) – a beautiful Rioja that kept that lovely sparkle of freshness even in her mature age.

Rioja, Campo Viejo 1964

Thanks to Nerua and the Basque Country for this wonderful experience!

Andreja Lajh


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