Fifteen years ago, most visitors to Spain’s northeastern corner would never have stopped in Bilbao. But since Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum opened in 1997, the city is, as Owen Lipsett says, “the epitome of urban renewal.” It follows that Bilbao and Biscay (or Vizcaya in Spanish, Bizkaia in Basque) province are at the forefront of modern Spanish cuisine, led in part by Basque chef Sabin Arana Beaskoetxea. Just back from a cooking appearance in Miami, he tells IgoUgo why the area’s Basque cuisine tastes so fresh.
IgoUgo: You’re known for the fresh interpretation of Basque cuisine at your Restaurante Jolastoky in Getxo, Biscay. What are the ingredients or dishes specific to the Basque region that a visitor simply must try?
Sabin Arana Beaskoetxea: Spain’s Basque country is situated in a very privileged area, with an ideal climate boasting both mountains and seaside. That allows us to have all the ingredients we could ever want all within reach: fish, greens, and meat. And don’t forget our wines—our whites (the traditional Txakolina from the Bizkaia region) and our reds from the Rioja region.
IgoUgo: Among other trips, you were just with a group of chefs showcasing Basque cuisine in Miami. How have your travels influenced your cooking and eating?
Sabin Arana Beaskoetxea: Every place I have gone I have picked up something that translates into my style and cooking. All places and cultures teach unique techniques and inventive uses for ingredients we are used to seeing in our own traditional ways. In Bizkaia and the Basque country, we’re most known for that—creating new ways to cook and experience food.
IgoUgo: What is your favorite food city?
Sabin Arana Beaskoetxea: I always see each place I go as having their own special finds, but I suppose it’s in the biggest cities where there are the most options and great restaurants—probably Paris, New York, and London.
IgoUgo: What and where is a meal you'd cross an ocean to eat again?
Sabin Arana Beaskoetxea: There are definitely several; I can’t say just one because it wouldn’t be fair. But in New York, Paris, London, Munich, Milan, and Miami there are great restaurants that I would love to go back to throughout my life.
If you’re in Bilbao, be sure to visit the Guggenheim and Chef Sabin’s restaurant. But there’s plenty to enjoy beyond these stops, says Kiryo, and he would know: his wife hails from the area. “Vizcaya is a place full of many surprises,” he says, “from urban architecture and medieval streets to green countryside only associated with the north of Spain.” He compares it to the Pacific Northwest of the US and says it’s a worthy destination, indeed.