April 8, 2017

THE FRONT PAGE

NOOR. Paco Morales a return to Cordoba

Karim de pi+¦ones (Morales)

Few recent restaurant openings in Spain have been as anxiously awaited as Noor, the return of chef Paco Morales to Córdoba, the Andalusian city where he was born, raised and first began working in his father’s take-out restaurant.

When Noor opened, just days before his thirty-fifth birthday last spring, Mr. Morales’ career in the kitchen had already brought him a chorus of acclaim from Spain’s most important critics and several national awards. In the fifteen years since entering the profession at fourteen, he’d worked in the Basque Country at the outstanding restaurant of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum under the direction of Martín Berasategui and then six years at Andoni Luis Aduriz’s Mugaritz, widely regarded among the world’s top dozen restaurants. While becoming a pivotal creative contributor there, he also took a seasonal leave to work with Ferran Adrià at elBulli.

In 2009 he received a first Michelin star for his own Restaurante Paco Morales at the Hotel Ferrero (of tennis star Juan Carlos Ferrero) which he shut in 2013, under the cloud of the hotel’s potential closure.

Observers wondered where a chef of such ascendancy would land when he didn’t simply move the establishment elsewhere. But for him, it was time for extended serious
reflection, to consider his future life.

Answers did not come readily. For three years he searched, not caring if subjected to criticism. “It made me stronger,” he says. It also brought him home to Córdoba.

“I would walk, walk and walk – the whole day.” It went on and on.
“Well, one day, with my wife…I saw the light, in the summer, of my city, the sunset,” he says, as if suggesting the classic picture of Córdoba at dusk from the aqueduct over the Guadalquivir River, the Mezquita Mosque warmly aglow.

“When someone (visiting ) from elsewhere is in Córdoba…the light is very nice,” he says, his voice softening. " It's very special. I said to my wife,

‘Why not take advantage of the Arab culture?’ I called Ferran, I called Andoni and said, ‘I am going to re-make Andalusian cuisine.’ They said, ‘Very good idea!’ ”

Yet, Mr. Morales grew up knowing little of Córdoba’s history and how significant his home was - certainly not an uncommon story about children born amidst monuments of historic cities. But now, he began a period of intense research into the city of Seneca where centuries later the Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides flourished in Muslim Al-Andalus.

In March 2016, he opened his restaurant Noor, Arabic for Light.

It had already been receiving wide national coverage for its idea: its menu was based upon 10th century Córdoba. Each subsequent year, the menu would focus on another year from the period of Al-Andalus. In the fall, the restaurant appeared on the pages of The New York Times and Wallpaper. This idea was indeed a ‘very good idea.’ Its first Michelin star came within months.

Noor’s reception confirmed those days the young chef spent re-connecting with his hometown.

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