Eccentric and wildly creative are just some ways in which Spanish chef Dabiz Munoz is described in the ever-evolving culinary industry – qualities that have earned him top honours at the Best Chefs Awards ceremony three years in a row.
His dishes are "madness on a canvas" and he is the artist. Now, he's bringing his skill to Dubai with a permanent restaurant at One&Only One Za'abeel.
It will be a street food spin on his Madrid restaurant DiverXO, which procured its third Michelin star in 2014. After it did, The New York Times described him as “Spain's new culinary enfant terrible”.
His look certainly fits the bill when we met at Munoz's lavish suite at Atlantis The Royal in Dubai. Dressed in all-black with a printed Kenzo T-shirt, Munoz sports a mohawk and dons spike studs in both ears.
“It's a way of life,” he tells me when I ask where his eccentric creativity comes from. “I am most happy when there is constant change,” he adds.
Iced pizza, anyone?
It's the perfect way to sum up the chef's decades-long career and the success of DiverXO. It's hard to pin down the cultural influences of the dishes served at DiverXO, as the restaurant presents “unexplored ways of understanding the gastronomic experience”.
Some of the dishes include sheep yoghurt with wild strawberries and coffee; cold poached chion chopped stick with roasted caviar, marine plankton and chicken yolk; and iced pizza margherita, made from Spanish goat mozzarella, Thai basil, spicy tomato consomme, matured vinegar and charcoal-roasted dough with shiso lime pesto.
So avant-garde is Munoz's culinary vision that some friends were almost reluctant to support him in 2007, when the restaurant first opened, followed by StreetXO, a more casual and accessible version of DiverXO. “They were wrong,” says Munoz simply.
Thanks to its three Michelin stars and other accolades, including coming in at No 3 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, the venue has become a point of culinary pilgrimage for gastro-tourists.
Now, Munoz is preparing to open StreetXO in Dubai. It is going to be one of the 11 restaurants launching at The Link, a new culinary destination at One&Only One Za'abeel. The move is part of ongoing international expansion plans, and Munoz also plans to launch outposts in Miami, Barcelona and London.
At its core, StreetXO melds fine dining and street food.
Some dishes Dubai diners can expect include crowd favourites from Madrid, such as dumpling pekines and nigiri croquettes.
“We want to preserve the DNA of the restaurant,” says Munoz, though only 50 per cent of the menu will be the same. There will be dishes exclusive to the Dubai outpost, as well as some with ingredient modifications.
“I am obsessed with making unique things – food that people have not tasted before,” he says, and this will remain the case even with the UAE venture.
Dubai as a culinary destination
Munoz says his “inherent hunger” serves him well as a chef with international ambitions. He decided on his career path as a child, while his travels further bolstered his passion for food. Before establishing his own, Munoz worked at acclaimed restaurants such as Hakkasan and Nobu in London.
He says the move to Dubai has come at the right time.
“I first came to Dubai in 2008 and the city has changed a lot, and grown in terms of culture and food. Gastronomy here is amazing now, with so many great things happening around town.”
He draws parallels between Dubai and other cities that are considered major centres of food and culture.
“In many ways, Dubai reminds me of London when I lived there a few years back," he adds. "At the time, there were so many restaurants opening up, and people from all around the world were coming to witness it." He jokes the only difference is the weather, "which is totally the opposite”.
“But the vibe and the potential is very similar,” he adds.
When the Michelin Guide landed in Dubai last year, the excitement among chefs, restaurateurs and foodies was palpable, but some sceptics thought that the city was not ready for it. Munoz is not one of them.
Interestingly, despite his stature as a chef, he admits he feels “some kind of pressure”.
“I want to create a successful restaurant here in Dubai and will put in all my efforts to do so, but I understand that Dubai has become a very competitive culinary destination," he says.
"It's not going to be easy for sure, but I believe we are going to make it.”