Sitting at a table confronting a rosy piglet with angel wings is only the beginning of an amazing gastronomic adventure at DiverXO. This is the first transgression Chef David Muñoz uses to welcome those wishing to eat the delicacies that come out of the kitchen that has made him famous at a very young age: he is only 39 years old! Muñoz breaks away from the traditional canons of gastronomy. “We want to convey the idea that, if you are seeing a pig with wings… everything is possible here.”
He goes on to describe his take on contemporary haute cuisine: “At DiverXO, the customer has changed ostentatious luxury for what we call background luxury, to put it another way, the quality and originality of the dish.” Interior décor seasoned with a touch of humor and a youthful, talented team are the trademark of this restaurant at number 8 Pensamiento Street in Madrid,
which help contribute to DiverXO becoming the sole restaurant in Madrid to have the Michelin guide’s highest ranking, three stars.
The genius behind the spirit of the restaurant is almost a birthright. Muñoz grew up in a family that went out of its way to find quality and diversity in the products they brought to the table, even during dire economic times. “I remember perfectly when the first duck hams arrived in Madrid. My parents couldn’t wait to buy one. They were always interested in eating well but, above all, in eating different, unusual foods.” This predilection and commitment to excellence is what you’ll find today at DiverXO, embodied in the element of surprise that has marked Muñoz’s career.
As every child of his generation, he wanted to be a soccer player. At school, he even considered a career in biology. But the culinary calling was strong, and by age 12, David Muñoz knew he wanted to become a chef. “My parents took me for the first time to Viridiana (an iconic restaurant in Madrid). For some reason, I began to idolize the cuisine of Chef Abraham García. Everything was good and surprising.” Muñoz would turn that visit into the start of the culinary pilgrimage he made every year with his parents, on the same date, too Viridiana. At the same time he kept trying to surprise his parents with his first recipes at home. “When I was 13, I bought my first book of haute cuisine, written by Chef Josep María Pla. The first dish I prepared was a squid pie… it was one of the most horrible things my family had ever tasted! “But they ate it!”
Luckily for us, he decided to follow his vocation. He enrolled in the School of Hospitality of Alcorcón, while working at the restaurant from his boyhood dreams, Viridiana, and later at the traditional Balzac restaurant in Moreto Street, Madrid (during the first stage of Chef Andrés Madrigal). David opened his first restaurant in 2007. “DiverXO was located in an obscure street in Tetuán, and nobody knew of it. From the beginning we tried to create a lasting impression in our customers and took great risks. The first challenge was making our costumers feel that every bite they were putting in their mouths was delicious. Our obsession has always been that everything we do is unique, ours and different.” That is the key to his success. Innovation, risk and rupture with tradition define both (chef and restaurant), as an extension of his philosophy.
David Muñoz distances himself from stereotypes and goes beyond what many have called “fusion.” “Fusion means to take two things that already exist and mix them to obtain a third, with two clear references. But at DiverXO we want to do something unique, and that implies not having references.” The latest innovation in his menu was inspired by a recent trip to Singapore, where he discovered new properties of the egg yolk. “After a long time testing the product without satisfactory results, we realized that after roasting the yolk at a certain temperature in the wok with olive oil, it created a hot foam that we used to roast a piece of flounder. A dish like this—creamy sole Roman style with duck yolks sautéed in the wok—shows the best concepts of our cuisine.” The perfect mix of Asian and Mediterranean influences continues to inform the preparation of many of the chef’s dishes. A fierce combination of acidic and herbal notes, different intensity and richness of flavor, and dishes that can be enjoyed “with all five senses,” distinguish the restaurant and the style of the chef. But there are other elements present in his cuisine like the appropriation of worldly flavors from South America to Southeast Asia, Japan, China, Europe and the United States.
Since Muñoz and DiverXO are, literally, one, when the chef travels outside Madrid, the restaurant closes. There are plans to open a venue in New York in three years. “There is only one DiverXO in the world, and I will be wherever DiverXO is.” In addition, he directs and oversees Project StreetXo, a new business concept of casual dining in the Gourmet Experience area of the upscale shopping center El Corte Inglés Callao, in Madrid. It is a more affordable option for the public, and has been dubbed “David Muñoz’s street and urban cuisine.” As a result of the success of this outlet, they want to take the concept to Barcelona, London and Singapore.
Not resting on his laurels, the young chef has both feet on the ground. The awards and accolades he has received such as a three Michelin stars or the National Cuisine award to the youngest chef in Spain, do not put pressure or stress on the chef. In fact, he believes the best is yet to come: “This is only the beginning. DiverXO is only 20 percent of what it will become.” He gets up at 8:30 and retires at 2 in the morning without any rest. “Our aims are not linked to recognitions. We open to offer our customers a unique experience, one of the best of their lives.”
His winning attitude is not based on the idea of “being content with what one already has,” it rests in the heart of a child who still wants to surprise his parents every weekend. It is an extension of his personality: the humility with which he assumes his fame, combined with his desire to “take the world by storm every day.” Once you get a reservation at DiverXO (the average wait is one month), the hardest part will already be over. Allow yourself to be carried away by surprise, imagination and by a unique explosion of flavors that will make you fly, as the pigs of the table, to unexpected geographies and to your own memories. ■