Spanish star chef David Muñoz is cooking alongside his mother at an event sponsored by a well-known brand. At the age of 34, the creator of Madrid’s three-Michelin-starred DiverXo and StreetXo, a low-cost version of his flagship restaurant, creates waves of media expectation with his every move. Raised in the capital’s La Elipa neighborhood, he’s clearly addicted to his profession and keeps his feet on the ground – apart from, that is, when he’s cooking.
Question. Have a lot of poseurs emerged in the wake of the gastronomy boom and the overexposure of the word avant-garde?
Answer. I don’t know whether it was a conscious thing or not, but the word avant-garde has become defiled in the world of cooking. It seems that everyone has to be doing avant-garde cuisine, or else it’s just not interesting. But I know great temples of food that aren’t at the vanguard of anything, and I like them no less for it.
Q. What do you like to eat?
A. All kinds of things – even mice in Vietnam if they are well prepared. I also really like cocido madrileño (a traditional Madrid stew) and a good Thai curry.
Q. Where do you like to eat out?
A. My favorite restaurant is Sudestada in Madrid. It’s been fascinating me for years. Their cooking is all about intense flavors and risky combinations. Every bite is a celebration. And that is just the way I see the act of eating, as an act of hedonism.
Q. Do you feel weighed down by all the things you have had to give up to be where you are right now?
There’s no need to obsess over money. It’ll come”
A. People would be surprised to know how many personal things have been sacrificed along the way. In the end, everything has a price. It’s always been worth it, though.
Q. So all you do is work, then?
A. To me, cooking is also leisure. I’m a food freak. I come home after a 16-hour work day and sit down to watch a documentary about cooking.
Q. It cannot be easy dealing with the success of obtaining three Michelin stars at age 33.
A. There have been tougher times. The third star came at my best personal moment. But I’ve already forgotten about the three stars; now I’m only thinking about the fourth star, even if it doesn’t exist. I am thinking about new challenges, like London and Macao [where he is opening StreetXo franchises].
Q. Who helps you keep your focus?
A. I don’t need help with that. I am more focused than ever. I have found my karma. I went through a really tough period in terms of mental management before the third star came round. I started seeing a psychologist because I was stressed out: all the media coverage, all the working hours, my obsession with perfection ... then I started doing a lot of exercise and lost nearly 25 kilos to get to my natural weight, and not the fat guy you see in pictures from six months ago. All of that has made me feel better about myself.
Q. Did you play pretend chef when you were little?
People would be surprised to know how many personal things have been sacrificed along the way”
A. I pretended to cook, yes. My grandparents used to buy me plastic food. And I also liked to play with Barbie dolls ...You can imagine what my parents must have thought.
Q. Um, I guess it’s pretty clear.
A. Yes, I collected Barbies. I have never talked about this before. I really liked to take off their clothes and things like that.
Q. And did you prefer cooking or soccer?
A. Cooking. Something is definitely going on when you’re 12 and the best present someone could give you is to take you out to a specific restaurant.
Q. You got your calling early ... but can it be a form of slavery?
A. How many people do you know who are doing something they like, the way they like it? There is no greater freedom than dedicating yourself to your calling in the most open way possible.
Q. What has your wife’s role been in all this?
A. Enormous. She has always been by my side. Ángela is brilliant at anything she does, she’s fucking intelligent. She has added so much to my career, to my profession … she threw the switch in my head to make everything work the way it does today.
Q. Do you believe in the famous list published by Restaurant magazine?
I see the act of eating as an act of hedonism”
A. I care precisely zilch about the Restaurant lists. I can see why there is a publication where people voice their opinions and create a ranking ... but the way that list is drawn up is unreal. When you take the rules of the 50 Best you realize the list is not objective. DiverXo now ranks 94th, but I would say the same thing if it ranked 10th tomorrow morning. People don’t like to come out and say that the 50 Best list is poorly drawn up. But everyone knows it, so I’ll go ahead and say it myself. The rules are not realistic. They need to be changed and it needs to be said. Having said that, some things do make sense. The best restaurant in the world is Celler de Can Roca (in Catalonia), even if it is ranked second.
A. And the best chef in the world is your mother?
A. Yes of course. She is number one.
Q. What are your eating habits like?
A. Poor. Some days I don’t eat at all, others I have lunch at 5pm, most of the time I just gobble down my food...
Q. That legend about chefs organizing massive parties does not seem to fit in with your personal schedule.
A. No, man. I’m really focused on what I’m doing now. I treat myself like an athlete. I like to pour myself a drink or a glass of wine, but these days I try to avoid alcohol altogether, it would affect my productivity.
Q. But I’ve heard that your next revolution involves wine.
A. Yes, nobody’s had the nerve to touch that yet. Increasingly, young people do not drink wine, and all the winemakers are complaining about it. Everything has been handled in an excessively dogmatic fashion. But there is another, more hedonistic way of doing things that I am going to apply at DiverXo.
Some days I don’t eat at all, others I have lunch at 5pm, most of the time I just gobble down my food”
Q. Could you tell me about the flying pigs on the tables of your restaurant?
A. I had a really lively imagination when I was little. I used to tell my father that I had seen the Three Wise Men with my own eyes and that I had talked to them ... I believed my own fantasies. He always used to say that one day someone would tell me that pigs fly and I would believe that, too. So to me, flying pigs are an icon of an active imagination. Besides, when you walk into a restaurant with three Michelin stars and find a herd of flying pigs, you definitely know there’s something different going on there.
Q. You have more than one employee per diner. Surely that is not profitable?
A. It isn’t. I am losing money with DiverXo, but StreetXo is turning a profit, and so are the brands ... DiverXo is our flagship. It’s like investing in advertising.
Q. I once read a headline claiming that you have three Michelin stars yet earn €1,000 a month.
A. Hmmm ... that’s pretty forced. I have a lot of employees, I spend the money in investments, I do things that are not profitable … I figure we’ll start making money in the future. I am now taking home around €1,300. All I meant to say is that there’s no need to obsess over money. It’ll come.