The pioneer: Dabiz Muñoz, the chef who shook up Madrid’s restaurant scene

One of Madrid’s most experimental chefs, Dabiz Muñoz draws inspiration from all over the world — just don’t call his food ‘fusion’.

Dabiz Muñoz holds a reputation as a wildly creative chef, unrestrained by rules or conventions.

Photograph by Dabiz Muñoz
By Tina Nielsen
Published 11 Aug 2022, 06:04 BST

Miso asparagus and naan orbs accompanied by smoking towers of dry ice. Duck hearts splashed with Tabasco and tomatillo ketchup. Galician lobster with orange swipes of lobster-head vindaloo and a quenelle of vibrant red sushi rice. Dishes at DiverXO aren’t just food, they’re works of art, and the kind of cooking that’s earned Dabiz Muñoz a reputation as a wildly creative chef, unrestrained by rules or conventions.

The opening of his restaurant in 2007 was a groundbreaking moment for Madrid, a city with — at that point — a fairly conventional restaurant scene. “At the time, there was no avant-garde cooking in Madrid,” recalls Muñoz. “The restaurants with this sort of creative cooking were only found in the Basque Country and Catalonia.”

Over the past 15 years, Muñoz’s food has become even more adventurous. His restaurant has attracted visitors from across the world, as well as the approval of Michelin inspectors (in 2014 it became the only restaurant in the Spanish capital to hold three stars), and last year, Muñoz scooped The Best Chef Top100 Award.

Having grown up in Madrid, Muñoz’s interest in cooking was sparked by regular childhood visits to Viridiana, a landmark Madrid restaurant with an array of international influences.

After catering college, Muñoz went on to pursue his culinary passions internationally, working at acclaimed London restaurants including Hakkasan, Nobu and Nahm, before travelling around Asia and Latin America. His experiences in London, he says, showed him he most enjoyed cooking freely, combining techniques and approaches from various countries.

This is a style he’s brought to DiverXO. “It’s really a journey around the world without many clues as to where anything comes from,” Muñoz says. But despite picking freely from various global cuisines, Muñoz insists what he does isn’t ‘fusion’ — rather, he says, he develops original ideas inspired by international cuisines. “I learn from people in all parts of the world and develop my own narrative,” he explains. “We don’t mix a flavour from Thailand with Spanish ingredients. Fusion is wonderful when done well, but it isn’t what we do.”

Muñoz describes his food as “creative, with lots of flavour and lots of risk”. When he was planning to open DiverXO, his friends advised against it. “They all said it was too risky and there was no appetite for it in Madrid,” he says. They were wrong, however, and the restaurant has proved to be the catalyst for Madrid becoming not only a top dining destination in Spain but also an international culinary touchstone, alongside the likes of London and New York. “We showed younger chefs that it was possible to open a restaurant without much investment and that Madrid as a city was open to trying new places like DiverXO,” Muñoz says.

Set within the NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding hotel, DiverXO offers diners an unconventional welcome: they’re greeted by sculptures of flying pigs, which go to the heart of Muñoz’s philosophy — that anything is possible, and in his restaurant you should expect the unexpected.

Today, many of the dishes that appeared on the menu at DiverXO when it first opened now feature in Muñoz’s more casual and accessible StreetXO restaurant, which he launched in in the affluent Barrio de Salamanca district in 2015.

Clearly not averse to risk, Muñoz plans to move DiverXO to a site 20 minutes from Madrid in 2024, an idea he started working on during the pandemic. “So many great things have happened to us in DiverXO, and after 15 years you want to keep looking for motivation,” he explains. “Now the motivation is to make DiverXO more creative and avant-garde than ever before, and I decided that if it were to continue it had to be with big changes and big risks.” Until then, the chef and his team will keep pushing boundaries in the city where they’ve undoubtedly left a lasting culinary legacy.

Dabiz Muñoz’s five favourite ingredients

1. Olive oil
I can’t live without olive oil, it’s essential. It’s a product with so many different varieties that there are untold possibilities.

2. Jamón ibérico
There’s no other product like ibérico ham from Spain; it’s so versatile. I love everything about it: the flavour, the smell, the texture. It’s the perfect product.

3. Skate
We always have a skate dish on the restaurant menu. It’s a fish you don’t see in many fine-dining restaurants, but I like the flavour, the texture — it’s among the best fish there are.

4. Chillies
These are essential in DiverXO. I use chillies from Asia and aji chilli peppers from Latin America. They’re a way to maximise the flavour and they don’t have to be very hot.

5. Citrus
As well as chilli and salt, I season dishes with citrus; they add a robustness, lighten the dish and add acidity. We use up to 15 different kinds of citrus on a menu on any given day: lime, lemon, kafir lime, mandarin or calamansi, for example.

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