Dabiz Muñoz

The Muscle of Spanish Cuisine

12/02/2019 · By Lala Llorens
dabiz muñoz chef openning

Three Michelin stars aren’t enough for Spain’s most popular cook. On the verge of opening his third StreetXo, in Dubai, Daviz confesses he’s hungry like a shark—always looking for his next prey. The chef’s secret? Surrounding himself with talented people and applying his own with iron discipline. There will be plenty of time to relax later.

He’s serious at first, somewhat cold, even. But after three minutes talking about cooking, his eyes light up and a smile appears across his face. He welcomes us at DiverXo. It’s Tuesday. The restaurant is closed, the kitchen clean. But as we chat, in the middle of this oneiric universe full of white tulle and winged pigs, incredible aromas start to fill the air. It’s as if David is telepathically showing us what’s going on in that prodigious brain of his, full of ideas and flavours in a constant state of flux. And, for a moment, we feel weightless, like free beings floating in an unimaginable gastronomic paradise. Such is talent; when it’s pure, it has the capacity to take us very high.

A passion cooked on a slow heat

“It’s very much a vocational thing to me,” he says. “When I was 12, my parents, who come from a lower middle-class family, started taking me to Viridiana, which was an expensive restaurant we used to visit once every six months. And surprisingly, I was fascinated”. So, in a time when “being a chef wasn't cool at all,” he fantasised about one day having a restaurant like Abraham Garcia’s, where something unique would take place. And, while his friends went out on the town, he stayed at home on weekends and dedicated himself to designing the menu of his restaurant to be, “in prose that sometimes I didn't even understand,” and to cooking “truly inedible” things. “It was totally weird,” he admits.

Of course, he ended up working at Viridiana. After his subsequent stints at Catamaran, Chantarella, and several Asian establishments in London, Daviz opened his own place in 2007: DiverXo, an original concept of fusion cuisine that got its third Michelin star in 2013. He inaugurated StreetXo in 2012; a more informal affair, which currently has two establishments (in Madrid and London) which are always fully booked. Among the many accolades he’s received over the years, the second runner-up spot at the Best Chef Awards, which he has won for the third year in a row, stands out.

He admits it’s been hard for him to cope with the success, and that, for nine years, he lived tormented by the feeling of not being up to the task. “Only in the last four years have I started to manage things in a more organised, more intelligent way, which has changed the way I enjoy my restaurants, my life, and my profession. The big difference is that, while I still think things could be better, I also feel that what we’re doing is very good,” he says.

Creativity, his favourite ingredient

Behind this permanent dissatisfaction is David’s obsession with endless improvement and constant reinvention; an average of 40–45 new dishes come out of his restaurant each year. “I don't want DiverXo to become a cooking museum. I want very different things to happen from one year to the next, and that every year people think it’s a better and completely different experience from the previous one,” he says. However, as a cook, diner, and businessman, he is not interested in ideas that aren’t based on a cuisine that’s anything less than delicious. “I don’t agree with concepts that only try to satisfy the intellect over what you put in your mouth.”

In his creations, that conceptual-intellectual part is enhanced with the role played by the sense of smell, sight, and even touch. “I like to generate the atmosphere and conceptualise the dishes so that people can eat them with their hands,” he says. In the last year and a half, for example, they have been serving a plate of sea urchins prepared directly in the hands of the diner, an idea that, as far as David’s concerned, defines the “dichotomy between wild hedonism and illustrated gluttony.”

Moreover, the star of the El Xef TV series believes the gastronomic experience is closely linked to talent. “Haute cuisine or fine dining are not about ostentatious luxury, but about unique experiences that can’t be compared to anything else. And you get to that unique experience through talent.” Talent, he believes, is a muscle: “If you don't work it, you atrophy.”

Live to cook?

The price to pay for this continuous muscular exercise is a highly demanding personal and professional life: 16 hours a day from Wednesday to Saturday at DiverXo, and every other weekend at London's StreetXo. Sports, and particularly running, has been one of the ways he blows off steam: “Eat like a pig and run like a greyhound,” says one of his slogans.

But David Muñoz is not going to stop. “I have major expansion plans: first of all, in November 2020 we’ll open StreetXo in Dubai, and after that we’ll go to the United States—we’re not sure yet if it’s going to be New York, Miami, or Los Angeles.” Also, they’ve just started to sell their own XO sauces in supermarkets.

Because, as he himself acknowledges, his hunger knows no limits. In fact, he prides himself on working with talented people who share that hunger: “Hunger like that of a shark, always looking for his next prey.” However, he also hopes that, once the expansion of StreetXo is complete, he’ll be able to travel the world with a more open schedule and keep cooking in his restaurants, without having to rely on his days off to continue working: “So, at some point, in a few years, DiverXo will close down, and I’ll keep doing many things as a cook, working just as hard or more, but with a slightly more sustainable and humane approach.”

For the moment, though, the table is one big pile of notebooks full of scribbled ideas, ingredients, mixtures—pieces of inspiration he writes down during his continuous travels around the world. “In these 13 years, to outsiders it may look like I’ve achieved absolutely everything, but I’m convinced that we still haven’t seen the best version of myself as a cook, and that the best version of DiverXo or StreetXo is yet to come,” he says. We honestly don’t find it hard to believe him.

“I’m convinced that we still haven’t seen the best version of myself as a cook, and that the best version of DiverXo or StreetXo is yet to come”