David Muñoz, known as the enfant terrible of the Spanish cooking scene, has built a reputation as a pioneer and a creative adventurer. He continually surprises with his unique approach to cooking, which he describes as ‘brutal’. His team of chefs and staff at DiverXO may appear whilst you’re eating, to add something new and exciting to your dish. His food is a combination of influences ranging from Eastern cooking to Nordic fusion, with Spanish tradition combined with Asian flavors and presentation – surprising, original, fun, and globally inspired. Dishes are as unique as the chef, who guides guests on a hedonistic and creative gastronomic journey.
The Best Chef: How did you start your career as a Chef?
Dabiz Muñoz: No one from my family worked in the gastronomy industry. But when I was 12 my parents took me to a very famous restaurant in Madrid called Viridiana. From that day, from the very first day that I came to the restaurant, I knew that I wanted to become a chef. I started to cook at my parents’ home from the age of 12 until 17. I used to buy some cookbooks. When I was 17, I went to culinary school. In the mornings I went to school, and in the evenings, I worked at the restaurant. Two years later, when I finished culinary school, I started to work at Viridiana, the same restaurant I went to when I was 12. I’ve been working there for 3,5 years.
Then I moved to London, where I was living and cooking for 6 years. I came back to Madrid when I was 27 and started to look for a location to open DiverXO. We found the first location. It was very humble, very small, and a little bit awful as well. We opened DiverXO 15 years ago when I was 27. We were successful from the very beginning – we had full bookings 3 months from the opening in July 2007. In January 2008 in Madrid Fusión we were awarded the best new restaurant in Spain – less than one year after the opening!
The Best Chef: Why the name DiverXO?
Dabiz Muñoz: When I was living in London, I knew I wanted to open a restaurant and I was wondering how I should call it, and what it is going to be. I wanted people to understand that there are no limits in the concept, in the food, in the flavor, in everything… So “diverso”, with “s”, means diversity in Spanish. We changed the “s” with the “x”. Why? 15 yeast ago I spent 3 years cooking in Hakkasan, London’s Cantonese restaurant, and I was amazed by their food and concept. And there is a famous sauce in Cantonese cuisine, called xo. We wanted to play with the world and show that DiverXO is serving the food of the world.
The Best Chef: You combine different tastes from all around the world. How do you do that? How do you create your spectacular dishes?
Dabiz Muñoz: Every chef cooks with their background. As I told you, the first restaurant that I visited, Viridiana, was cooking kind of fusion. It was the first restaurant in Madrid to travel all around the world with its dishes. It inspired me. Then I moved to London, which is multicultural, has lots of restaurants from different parts of the world. And I traveled for the last 25 years. Part of my success is my instinct, part is my talent, and part is that I keep learning.
Many people ask me if creativity has limits, does it ever end. To be honest – I don’t think so. Any time I feel I need a new kind of creativity, I need new ideas, I keep studying. If you keep studying all the time, you are trying to grow, your cuisine and your knowledge… In the end, you will be more capable of doing something absolutely unique. So that’s why after 25 years of cooking, I study perhaps more than in the beginning.
The Best Chef: Cooking is surely the most important part of your job, but a modern chef needs to be also a good businessman. How do you feel about that?
Dabiz Muñoz: I think the best thing we’ve done after the Pandemic is what we’re doing with the management, in the back office. I’m a chef: I like to cook all the time, I like to lead my restaurants, my team in the restaurants. I like to do all the creativities with my company and restaurants. So, after the Pandemic, we started to employ new people for the back office and the management. We started to bring in strong talents in management, finances, marketing, and human resources. All of those people, they help me a lot to be better in my restaurants. I think management is the future of gastronomy. Thanks to it, people like me and companies like mine can grow sustainably.
The Best Chef: You also opened the RavioXO restaurant recently. What is this concept about?
Dabiz Muñoz: It was a dream come true for me. For 10 years I was dreaming about having a restaurant with dim-sum and dumplings. When I finally opened it, I didn’t want it to be a dumpling restaurant. I wanted it to be more unique, more savage, spectacular. I changed the concept and we played with the word “pasta”. We removed the link between this word and its meaning in one culture, we focused on the pure essence of pasta. We use the word “pasta” as an empty canvas in RavioXO and we are creative.
The Best Chef: What is avant-garde for you?
Dabiz Muñoz: So, to me, avant-garde means to open new ways, new paths no one has opened before. To cook avant-garde doesn’t mean that you are better or worse. It’s just another way of cooking, another way of running a restaurant. It’s indeed difficult because you can be creative, you can be original and modern, but not necessarily make avant-garde. Avant-garde means to open a door that no one has opened before and make a path beyond that door, open a new way. To me, this is avant-garde and that’s why there are not many people making avant-garde at the same time. There are not many people in history who have made avant-garde during their careers.
The Best Chef: You are one of the most important chefs in the world. How do you handle the pressure?
Dabiz Muñoz: I think in the last few years I grew a lot as a person, as a chef. In cooking, I find my happiness. I think I can manage all the pressure because I’m cooking 24/7, coming up with new ideas and I think I’m very lucky. I’m doing what I like, what my passion is. I have a world-class team. Every day I wake up and I know I get to do the thing that I love and if I want to change something in the kitchen – I can. The best way to manage the pressure is simply cooking, because this is what makes me happy.
The Best Chef: You work in Madrid, which in terms of gastronomy is at its best moment. How do you see this city in the future?
Dabiz Muñoz: Madrid today is in the best shape it has ever been. When I opened DiverXO, I explained to some colleagues from the gastronomy world what DiverXO is going to be. At that time Madrid was less vibrant, there weren’t many fine restaurants. Today the city is full of different locals, people, ideas, cultures. So, when I told them about the DiverXO, they said it wouldn’t be successful, not in this city, that Madrid wasn’t ready for this type of restaurant.
I opened it anyway and succeeded. And since then, even before the Pandemic, Madrid has grown a lot. Now new restaurants are constantly opening, very nice restaurants. The city is full of life, full of energy. I think, and this is my opinion, that now Madrid is the best place in Spain in terms of food or culture. Today’s Madrid reminds me of London 10-15 years ago – a place full of opportunities, where everything can happen. Of course, there is still room for improvement. But in the future, I think that Madrid will become one of the most important cities in the world.
The Best Chef: What does be the best chef in the world mean for you?
Dabiz Muñoz: I don’t feel like the best chef in the world. I mean it is very difficult to say who is the best chef in the world, in an industry so full of talented people. It’s true that this recognition is unbelievable, amazing, and means a lot. It means that people from the industry recognize you, that you are making something unique. And I think there are incredible chefs in Spain that made it possible for me as they showed the world what Spanish gastronomy is. I wouldn’t be here without them. I wouldn’t be recognized. I’m happy, really pleased with this recognition. But I stay humble and focused on my job because I’m pretty sure the best is yet to come. We still have room for improvement, we want to show the world another revolution.
The Best Chef: What is your advice for young, emerging chefs?
Dabiz Muñoz: My best advice is to enjoy your profession, be passionate about it. For any restaurant, serving hamburgers, fine dining, or casual restaurant, the best recognition is happy people and full bookings. And any award, any recognition is a consequence of what you do. You cannot be focused on achieving any kind of recognition or award. This always must be the consequence of your job and I think it’s the best way to be happy and it’s the best way to improve yourself.
The Best Chef: You said the best is yet to come. What are your plans?
Dabiz Muñoz: I have a lot of plans and I must confess that I change them constantly. One day I say white and another I say black. Now we’re becoming international – we are opening in Dubai next year, and maybe some new locations in Spain. We also plan to grow with RavioXO. And in 1,5 years we are going to change the location of DiverXO. I want to not only change the location, but also the concept, redefine us, our skills, our cooking concept. I want it to be mind-blowing. That is why I said the best is yet to come – I think I’m in a great place as a person, I grew. I think it’s the best moment in my career. I can see no limits. As a team, we are full of energy, and I work with really talented people.
The Best Chef: How did gastronomy change you?
Dabiz Muñoz: I used to be hungry for the world – this changed a few years ago when I was traveling around the world and met people admiring and supporting what I do and the restaurant. It didn’t make sense to me anymore to be so hungry. Gastronomy gave me everything. It’s what makes me happy every day. I’m trying to give back to the world all the admiration and support that I received. I feel really pleased with gastronomy and everything it gave me in my life. It gave me happiness, joy, a way of life.
The Best Chef: My last question is about sustainability. Because of it, you raised the price of your menu, and it provoked discussions.
Dabiz Muñoz: Yes, one of the changes in our XO-world, in the management and back office, is creating a more sustainable way of working for the staff. DiverXO is crazy, we are a lot of people, we use the best ingredients – it’s expensive. And we are hiring world-class people – sommeliers, restaurant managers. We can’t make DiverXO sustainable without changing the prices. The year 2024 will be the first sustainable year in DiverXO. I’m very proud of myself, that I had the courage to change things and make the company better. Better working hours, salaries, better for the environment. I’m lucky to have a team who manages that because I want to cook. This is my happiness.
The Best Chef: That’s a great summary – cooking is happiness. And so is eating.
Dabiz Muñoz: It’s true 🙂 If I had to choose, I’d choose eating over cooking. Those are my two passions. Eating a little bit more.