Bleri Dervishi is the chef behind the gourmet restaurant Gzona in Tirana. Having immigrated to Albania from Italy at the age of four, he began cooking at the age of eleven, and went on to complete his culinary training in Italy, Paris and Bilbao, including working in a three-star Michelin restaurant. Twenty-one years later, on his return to Albania, he decided to take a closer look at the country's eating habits and open his own restaurant in the capital. The philosophy he applies in this new place aims to address some of the major issues surrounding food in Albania, of which he paints a critical portrait. For Bleri Dervishi, the Albanian climate is very favourable to agriculture, allowing for a wide variety of fruit and vegetable crops, such as five different types of peppers. However, in his opinion, the lack of financial support is sabotaging what could potentially be a very fruitful agriculture. He notes that the majority of the population is not aware of the richness of the Albanian soil, and the country's culinary cultures and Mediterranean influences are not given much attention. Traditional recipes are often not particularly attractive to locals, who often prefer to turn to restaurants offering internationally influenced recipes. Moreover, the habits of average consumers living in urban areas are not oriented towards quality food, most purchases are made in supermarkets, towards imported products, the points of sale allowing access to local, quality products being the informal vendors that can be found "on the corner of the street".
Faced with these observations on the Albanian food context, the chef Bleri Dervishi decided to open Gzona, a gastronomic restaurant whose philosophy aims to evolve traditional Albanian cuisine, by highlighting emblematic dishes, while favouring an innovative approach and local sourcing.
Based on his interrogations on the ways to evolve the culinary traditions in the whole country, he opens the restaurant Gzona in 2019, located within the castle of Tirana. Gzona means "let's enjoy together" in the Albanian dialect of Guego, inviting all those who wish to do so to gather around the typical flavours of the country, rethought by the chef.
What makes the restaurant special is its commitment to more sustainable and healthy food, exploiting the potential of local agriculture. Bleri Dervishi is best known for his involvement with the Slow Food Association, for which he runs workshops, cooking demonstrations and training courses to raise awareness of the importance of choosing local, organic and seasonal food. He has made his restaurant an ambassador for the Slow Food philosophy, seeing the establishment as an opportunity to enhance Albanian products, reduce environmental impacts and promote healthy diets.
To do this, the restaurant places great emphasis on working with responsible farmers in the region, sourcing directly from 42 local producers, bypassing wholesale markets, to prevent the purchase of imported products. Each of his collaborations has been thought through, with the chef visiting producers directly to assess how the land is treated and to learn about the types of inputs used, with the aim of ensuring quality products. He also wants to highlight nutrient-rich products that can be found in Albania but are not commonly consumed, such as sea grapes and salicornia, also known as sea asparagus, algae known for their excellent nutritional qualities. The menu changes at every period of the year so that the ingredients offered are always in season, and due to these constant changes, a total of 1456 different dishes have been served since the restaurant opened.
In the kitchen, the team also works to limit waste, with items that are usually thrown away, such as potato peelings, being used as products in their own right. For Bleri Dervishi, restaurateurs must make an effort to reduce their waste, compost leftovers, have efficient energy and water management and try to produce some of the products they work with. Gzona has its own production to provide the fruits of the passion, caviar lemons, avocados and oils served to customers.
Inspired by the approach of molecular cuisine and neuro-gastronomy, a type of cuisine offering culinary experiences that stimulate the five senses, Chef Dervishi emphasises research and gastronomic innovation to enhance old recipes and revisit the country's flagship dishes in an original way, of which he sometimes proposes vegan versions.
With the support of every member of the Gzona team, Bleri Dervishi's ambition is to win the first Michelin star in Albanian history, to focus attention on the country's terroir, its rich food culture and its agricultural land.
This initiative sheet was written by Mathis Kugel, in civic service at Let's Food in May 2023.
Entretien de Bleri Dervishi par Let’s Food
Last modification : 30 May 2023.
Bleri Dervishi - Gzona
Gastronomic restaurant in Tirana, featuring local products and traditional Albanian recipes revisited. Gzona combines gastronomy and sustainable food.