The popularity of David Munoz, three-time winner of “the world’s best chef” distinction, as stated by The Best Chef Awards, can be traced back at least partially to two letters at the end of his restaurant’s title.
DiverXO is his wildly creative three-Michelin-star Madrid hotspot, now placed at No. #3 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list was named for the famous Hong Kong sauce.
“I fell totally in love with XO sauce the first time I tried it,” the Spaniard states. “It’s one of my favourite things in Cantonese cuisine.”
Munoz currently operates an eatery for pasta and dumplings, RavioXO, which opened in Madrid in 2000. A home delivery service and food truck brand named GoXO evolved into a fast-food restaurant in Barcelona by 2021.
The dining area The dining room at DiverXO is in Madrid, Spain. Photo: DiverXO
Then there’s the informal StreetXO located in Madrid. He plans to expand into Dubai in December and Barcelona and Miami in the coming year. He is examining proposals regarding Singapore in addition to Tokyo.
His first encounter with XO sauce and, more broadly, Chinese food in the past two decades helped ignite the fire that is now a food empire being created.
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After finishing his catering school and graduating from catering college, the youthful Munoz left the outskirts of Madrid to head for London. In London, he worked for a number of trendy modern Asian restaurants, including Hakkasan, Nobu, and Nahm, along with Locanda Locatelli.
He describes his experience at Hakkasan as a “mind-blowing experience” because, at the time, no Spanish restaurants were experimenting with creative ways to reinvent Chinese food.
He traveled to Hong Kong and beyond, and the city left such a lasting impression that he returned to Asia each summer for the next 15 years.
Munoz discovered the joy of XO Sauce (above) when he sampled it during his visit to Hong Kong. Photo: SCMP
“The initial time I traveled to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore, I felt part of the city. I used to tell people, “I’m Chinese in a different life,” he says with a smile.
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Munoz founded DiverXO (pronounced”dee-ver-so”) in 2007 at an unassuming, cramped location that was “a little bit awful, actually,” the founder says.
But he quickly gained an enviable reputation for his innovative, non-boundary food that fused Mediterranean and Chinese cuisines, drawing inspiration from all over the World – “diverse” means diversity in Spanish.
Being in the presence of something new is one of my favorite feelings in the World… People will experience this whenever they enter my restaurant: that sensation of “wow.”
Where an ingredient was sourced or utilized was unimportant; how it could be used to produce something that had never been seen or tasted before inspired Munoz’s imagination.
He wanted to not only be unique but also to be avant-garde, to make boundaries impossible or break them entirely.
Six years later, DiverXO (which had moved to a larger space) had become Madrid’s sole restaurant with three Michelin stars. Munoz, aged 33, was the second-youngest chef to receive this prestigious award.
Warm sashimi served with fried upside-down baby Eels.
Although Munoz’s obsession to come up with something unique may have been triggered by his experiences in Asian cuisine, the initial source of the motivation dates back to his early years.
When he was a kid, his parents would take him and his brother out to an exciting eatery in Madrid at least every six months.
At a birthday celebration, the family took him to Viridiana in the kitchen of Chef Abraham Garcia, who cooked creative food using a variety of influences from all over the globe. It was a moment of discovery that sparked a lifetime of love for me.
Foies … from the Sea and the Land includes the grilled duck liver with sea urchin, served with green tomato and Serrano chili gazpacho. Photo: DiverXO
“That sensation of being in front of something new is my favourite feeling in life, I knew that even when I was 10,” Munoz adds Munoz in his pronounced English.
“That’s what I want people to feel every time they come to my restaurant, that feeling of ‘wow’, like when you’re at a museum, or the theatre, and you see something new and you get butterflies in your stomach.”
The thousands of butterflies that line the ceiling of DiverXO, which has been in the third space since 2014, represent this concept visually.
DiverXO is famous for its unique design and innovative food. Photo: DiverXO
The decorative pig’s sporting wings, mostly modeled after Munoz with an edgy mohawk and studded neck collars all over the restaurant, indicate how far the actor has made.
When he told his father he’d someday own a renowned restaurant that people would wait to get into, the father said: “When pigs can fly.”
In the beginning, at just six months of age, DiverXO had a long waitlist, and it could take a long time to secure an appointment.
If you’re happy with life, you’ll treat those around you more kindly and professionally.