He is one of those cooks who are just different, difficult to classify, unique. It is no coincidence that his restaurant, Nerua, is integrated in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Spain), instead, one often has the sensation of feeling an artistic experience when approaching his cuisine. We could possibly define it as a journey to essence, especially the essence of the products from the land, from the vegetable world, which, on his hands, reach their highest potential in terms of minimalism and purity of flavor. It is therefore a risky cuisine, which bets everything on one or at the most two combinations of flavors, and whose main focus is on one simple, crystal-clear idea.
As for the world of sweet, one publication in the scientific magazine ‘Gastronomy and Food Science’ last June powerfully caught our attention. Under the title ‘New concept of desserts with no added sugar’, Josean Alija signed an extensive concept essay in which he proposed a new way of understanding desserts at the end of a gastronomic menu. The aim of this study was to set a clear direction, different to that traditional approach to dessert as something which is served at the end of a course and which has very little to do with the food just eaten, apart from being an amalgam of calories, sugar and fats.
This worry certainly matches all the institutional announces about health and nutrition which the food industry has incorporated to its offer by manufacturing low-fat goods, full of alternatives to sweeten them and make them creamy. But Josean Alija proposes a different approach; an approach inspired by something genuinely gastronomic – the pleasure in tasting it.
Finding the balance between the world of sweet and a light essence cuisine calls for a profound reflection as well as for a change of attitude. This is why the first thing to do is to forget conventionalisms and reconsider ingredients and combinations without any prejudice. From this approach, I put my mind to identifying, isolating and boosting the sweet flavors which can naturally be found in the product.
For that very reason, and because he does not renounce pleasure or the creativity expected from an haute cuisine chef, this new generation of desserts searches for the essence of each piece of food, of each piece of fruit, and works them by using techniques which belong to the most recent, contemporary cuisine d’auteur – vacuum impregnation, smoking, infusions, filtering, gelling, airing, freezing and other similar. Thanks to these techniques and the use of the best quality raw material –helped by a purveyor sensitive to the needs of a selected cuisine and who collaborates with the chef by providing fruits at their best– the precious objective of pleasure is achieved. Full flavor and a creation d’auteur which has avoided the culture of oversugaring or dairy creaminess as the only ways to obtain pleasure from.
With this philosophy, besides, Josean Alija takes full control of his culinary offer, from the starters to the very last product consumed in his restaurant Nerua daily. There are no major differences between the savory and the sweet station, it is all a journey to the natural essence of food in the terms he explains himself and which he calls Muina, which is also the title of the book which gathers his latest creations, recently published in Spanish and English.
Muina is what I am
Finding the balance between the world of sweet and a light essence cuisine calls for a profound reflection as well as for a change of attitude. This is why the first thing to do is to forget conventionalisms and reconsider ingredients and combinations without any prejudice. From this approach, I put my mind to identifying, isolating and boosting the sweet flavors which can naturally be found in the product.It is an easy idea – keeping the concept, philosophy and rules we follow as for the ‘savory’ creations: highlighting the importance of textures, finding delicate flavors and keeping a balance in the amount of ingredients on each plate; extending the values of food to the last phase, pursuing pure flavors. What is really important is the whole, the harmony.
This is how I understand pastry nowadays. A proposal which, as I said, goes in line with the word which defines my cuisine: Muina.
Muina is a generic concept which synthesizes what I am and what my proposal is. It allows to think of the creative process as a journey to the origin of things, their root, so as to be able to fully develop their real potential while trying to describe clear, complete and pleasant sensations. This is what truly hides in Muina: a very personal reinterpretation of the world and reality which surround me. The assumption, concretion and fidelity to some values which help me march forward, in the same direction. It is the determination to share knowledge, research, projects, experiences, emotions.
You will find these two recipes in so good #11