Madrid’s mohawked three Michelin-starred chef David Muñoz — known for his highly inventive Asian-Iberian fusion food — rates olive oil as the gastronomic ingredient with the most promising future.
The youngest Spaniard to win the top Michelin ranking, Muñoz, just 33, believes olive oil will not only establish a firmer foothold in North America but take off in Southeast Asia, where he has traveled widely and continues to find inspiration.
Muñoz told Olive Oil Times that the Mediterranean staple is indispensable in his restaurant Diverxo, which has just set a Spanish record by passing from one to three stars in only four years.
Diverxo held its first Michelin star in the 2010 guide, two in the 2012 edition, and will feature three in the 2014 guide — the only eatery in the Spanish capital to do so and now one of just eight 3‑starred restaurants in Spain.
Michelin recognition for “highly creative fusion cuisine”
According to the guide, Diverxo “breaks with established traditions” and its tasting menus offer “highly creative fusion cuisine with Asian influences.”
Announcing details of the 2014 Spain and Portugal guide in November, Michelin Guides International Director Michael Ellis described Muñoz as a rising star whose “exceptional creativity” produced textures, flavors and aromas that surprise and astonish.
The atmosphere in the restaurant is like the chef himself, “avant-garde, iconoclast and totally unexpected,” Ellis said.
Olive oil enhances Asian flavors
Muñoz said he has no problem combining the flavors of Asian food with Iberian ingredients such as olive oil.
“Southeast Asian food and olive oil are completely compatible. For example, the flavors from Southeast Asia are pungent, sweet, spicy and bitter, and olive oil complements them well because it can also have these attributes.”
“A splash of olive oil on a Thai or Vietnamese salad is incredibly good,” he said.
Kimchi juice “spectacular” with olive oil
But the combination that most surprised him and is now one of his favorites is that of olive oil and Kimchi juice.
Muñoz prepares an equal parts emulsion of the juice from Korean staple kimchi — a product of the fermentation of Chinese cabbage — and olive oil, which is then served with strawberries, sardines and yoghurt.
“The kimchi juice is very tasty, a little spicy and acidic, and when mixed with olive oil it’s spectacular,” Muñoz said.
Kimchi and olive oil have reputations as superfoods due to their various health benefits but the reason olive oil is the oil most used in Muñoz’s kitchen is “its taste and versatility,” he said.
Olive oil the most versatile
While he does use other vegetable oils depending on the dish being prepared, “none has as many possibilities as olive oil.”
“What we most use by far is olive oil. For us it’s the best medium for cooking, for sautes, and to finish off a plate.”
“We use different types and grades of olive oil. We have Hojiblanca, Arbequina, Picual, Ocal, and various other varieties.”
“We try to find what fits perfectly with the taste we want to achieve with the dish. On occasions a Picual, for example, might be too intense, so we use a fruity Arbequina.”
In the case of his upside-down fried bacalao (dried codfish) — over which sizzling olive oil is poured — a mix of Hojiblanca and Picual was found to work best.
But he doesn’t use olive oil at home. “Because I never eat at home.”
London and New York venues planned
Muñoz has not missed a single sitting since Diverxo opened six years ago and also runs a small bar, Streetxo, in a Madrid food hall.
Streetxo is styled on Asian streetside food stalls and is the brand Muñoz plans to export, starting with a venue of the same name opening in Old Burlington Street, in London’s Mayfair, in May, and another in New York within a year.
The London Streetxo will share the concept of its Madrid namesake but enjoy a bigger, “more spectacular” setting.
“It will be like landing in a street in Bangkok,” said Muñoz, who plans to spend Tuesday to Saturday in Madrid and Sunday to Monday in London, where he says olive oil will continue to be an indispensable ally.