Chef Paco Morales to serve history and haute cuisine at new Dubai restaurant

The Spanish chef is opening Qabu at One&Only One Za'abeel next month

Chef Paco Morales is known for his three Michelin-starred restaurant Noor in Cordoba, Spain. Photo: Qabu
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For Paco Morales, every dish is a representation of a memory.

The Spanish chef, known for three Michelin-starred restaurant Noor in his home country, is preparing to open a spinoff in Dubai. Set to open next month, Qabu at One&Only One Za'abeel will be one of 11 restaurants at the hotel's high-end culinary hub The Link.

The Dubai venue borrows many elements from the restaurant from the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, where Morales grew up. Noor serves a cuisine packed with history, referencing the eighth to the 15th century, when the area was part of Muslim-ruled Al-Andalus.

Qabu will also reflect historical periods in its menu, mainly from the 10th to the 18th centuries, and Morales tells The National it will consist of “Occidental cuisine with Andalusian touches”.

The connection between the two restaurants is apparent even etymologically. Noor means light in Arabic, while Qabu means cellar or vault, which alludes to the emphasis Morales puts on only using premium ingredients. In both venues, ingredients are of utmost importance.

The chef clarifies, however, that while “Noor is very important to Qabu, Qabu is independent”.

“I'm taking my experience from Noor and translating it to Qabu's own personality and language,” he explains.

Early success

The chef takes his inspiration from different centuries every year, with the use of ingredients that aren't typical in modern Spanish cuisine, such as pigeon meat and bitter oranges.

The inspiration isn't only conceptual, either; Morales only uses ingredients that would have been available during the depicted period. He collaborates with food historians and other experts to devise recipes and create tasting menus.

Although Morales has been doing this to much success, he clarifies his menus are "more of an interpretation. The history books that we have now about those times were translated from generation to generation.”

The current season at Noor, for instance, “interprets the journey of the Andalusians and the Spanish golden age”. Three tasting menus are available to choose from, depicting three historical elements. Dishes include black bread with chickpea, mole and mayonnaise of anchovy; roasted pigeon with tomatoes and chilli; and durum wheat pasta with roasted hen stock and baby squid.

The chef has evidently come a long way since his culinary journey started when, as a child, he worked for his father, who ran a small food takeaway shop in Cordoba.

“My father always told me a cook and a chef is formed in the kitchen, where you have everything you need to learn,” he says.

As Morales grew up, he started learning about fine dining, and the fact there's more to cooking than being in his father's kitchen. At 17, he left his hometown for a shot at a culinary career. In southern Andalusia, he says, fine dining was not “really a thing at the time”.

He went on to work under Spain's culinary great, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz and Ferran Adria of El Bulli. After 15 years of working with the big shots outside his hometown, and a few accolades in between, Morales was confronted with a reality that immediately made him decide to go back to Cordoba.

“I was at a dinner in Kuala Lumpur when my friend, who's an architect, started describing a beautiful mosque, and I couldn't believe he was actually talking about one in my city,” he says.

At that point he realised he was “discovering Cordoba as a stranger, and not as someone who grew up there”. This has become the basis of Noor, which is also a poignant blueprint for Qabu.

Asked whether he's worried the concept is too experimental, he says he's noticed the crowd in Dubai is fairly welcoming of ingenuity.

“Dubai is growing, and there is a lot of opportunity in the city to put up such kinds of venture,” he says, adding how good ideas and hard work are rewarded faster in the emirate more than in other major cities.

Updated: January 16, 2024, 6:37 AM