Ibiza restaurants: La Gaia – Presenting a ‘Ronqueo’

On a recent sunny Ibiza afternoon in a conference room at Ibiza Gran Hotel, master chef Óscar Molina stood in front of a 150-kilo Bluefin tuna discussing the variety of cuts and subtle flavours contained within this beast of the sea. With representatives of the esteemed Spanish fishery Balfegó, the assembled crowd were privy to a ronqueo.

There is no direct English translation for ronqueo but in Spanish, the word denotes the sound of the knife as it cuts into the skin of a tuna fish. Using an assortment of six knives and a handful of other tools, the fish was ritualistically disassembled into its various edible parts. Representatives from Balfegó accompanied the rhythmic performance with running commentary while two chefs used delicacy, brawn and muscle to present the audience with some of the finest tuna in the world.

The Bluefin tuna is a magnificent looking fish. Built for speed and agility, its torpedo-shaped body is metallic blue on top and shimmering silver below. The average Bluefin grows to two metres in length and weighs around 250 kilos. Highly prized in Japanese cuisine, prices for a single fish can reach up to six figures. Their speed and power make them highly sought by sports fisherman – there’s a good reason why the ultimate fisherman, Ernest Hemingway, called them ‘the king of all fish’. The Mediterranean (specifically the Balearic Islands) is the most important Bluefin tuna fishery and spawning ground in the world.

Balfegó is a fifth generation family-run enterprise that had its humble beginnings in the small seaside town of l’Ametla de Mar on the east coast of Spain. Cousins Manel and Pere-Vicent Balfegó still operate their own tuna fishing vessels as well as overseeing the transformation of their small company into a European powerhouse, employing over 180 people. The company mission is to capture, feed, study and trade in Bluefin tuna under a corporate and social responsibility program that ensures the protection and continuation of the species.

After decades of overfishing, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation has recently announced that Mediterranean Bluefin tuna has been brought back from the brink of extinction and stocks have returned to a healthy level. Not only has Balfegó’s commitment to sustainable practices helped bring about this shift, it is also the first company to develop an electronic system to track individual fish from capture to the kitchens of the world’s best restaurants ensuring quality from sea to plate.

The collaboration between La Gaia and Balfegó provides a way to offer this delectable fish while remaining conscious of ethical practices. Balfegó’s commitment to sustainable fishing, aquaculture and research and development means diners at La Gaia can be assured their enjoyment is virtuous, while Óscar Molina and his team get to work with the best quality fish on the market.

There is an alchemical process that occurs within the psyche of chefs when they get to work with quality ingredients. Molina and his team stirred, chopped and tweezered until the aroma of haute cuisine wafted through the air. The sparkle in the chef’s eye belied his cool deportment as he prepared several dishes from scratch, all the while explaining in a calm baritone the various ingredients, flavour combinations and preparations – not only showing the expertise of his world class kitchen, but also advising on how to cook perfect tuna at home.

Of the dishes presented, the Anticucho de Atún Balfegó appears on the La Gaia menu. In keeping with the restaurant’s concept, the flavours of this delicate dish combine Japanese and Peruvian traditions. Akami is the cut from the top of the back of the fish. Deep red in colour with very little fat and a firm texture, the meat is thinly sliced and marinated in ají panca, a Peruvian red pepper with a fruity flavour and mild heat. Skewered and seared, the fish is served over a bed of mashed sweet potato with honey. It’s a beautiful presentation of this quality fish and when enjoyed in the dining room of La Gaia it becomes a work of art.