Tight black T-shirt, short, slightly gelled hair, and an ear-to-ear smile. Aurelio Morales (Alcalá de Henares, 39 years old) is not sad, he looks radiant, despite having announced a couple of months ago that he was disassociating himself from the project that allowed him to obtain his long-awaited Michelin star: Cebo, at the Urban hotel (with five stars), close to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol.
“I had been considering leaving for a long time,” he confesses while drinking a cortado coffee, with a slight cloud of milk. “In the end it has been a matter of sustainability, the project as it was planned could not work much longer. You can’t have teams working 16 hours, even going on days off. It can not be anymore. Times have changed, fortunately or unfortunately.
The Alcalá native, trained in the kitchens of emblems such as elBulli, AbAC, Tickets, Echaurren or Miramar, is aware of the new reality that is flooding kitchens throughout Spain. “In the time that I was under the command of Xavier Pellicer or Ferran Adrià, the normal thing was to assume responsibilities and double shift. Today people want to reconcile, that you don’t yell at them and responsibilities, the fair ones. It’s normal, but you can’t be the best cook in the world by working eight hours, ”he thinks out loud.
On his skin, tattooed in red, still shines the macaron won in 2017. “I consider myself michelinist. What I do, however, is step aside. I had to reinvent myself, that’s why I kill the beast at the top of billing and customer satisfaction. Number one on Tripadvisor, best chef in Madrid twice, Michelin, Soles. In the end the project was going to eat us and that would have been sad ”, he lists.
“In my future I would like to have three stars. I think there is still time. When I started working with Paco Pérez, he had not achieved a single one. Now he has five ”, he recalls his time with the award-winning chef, behind the success of Miramar and the restaurant at the Arts hotel in Barcelona, while analyzing the reasons for this abandonment. “Going for all three required infrastructure and an investment that was not there. It is legitimate, the money belongs to the company (Derby Hotels)”. The hotelier confirmed after the departure of Morales that his replacements will be the very young Juan Sahuquillo and Javier Sanz, the managers of Cañitas Maite, the thriving gastronomic space opened in a remote town in the interior of Albacete and which received its first sun this year. In autumn Cebo will reopen its doors.
Since landing at the hotel on Carrera de San Jerónimo, Morales’s letter has been characterized by excellent technique. His tasting menus, where tripe croquettes, anchovy polvorones in vinegar, oysters with roast juice or Alicante rice dishes shone, were among the favorites of foodies, influencers and gourmets. “DiverXO and El Celler de Can Roca have doubled teams. My average ticket was 185 euros. What was I to do? Go up to 250?” he wonders. “I doubt very much that he would continue to fill with that price. That’s why I’m leaving, because I’m not able to find the formula”.
Now he is preparing what will be his next opening. A space, in principle, less gastronomic. “I want to show that there are other ways to have fun cooking. I’m going to a different project, in which a lot of things are going to happen. Some more gastronomic and others less. But always with the best product and respecting the season, ”he reveals from a place that he does not want to give much more information about. Although he ends by adding that “it is probably the highest investment —that I know of— for a restaurant in Spain.”
Will it be in Madrid? “Of course. Madrid is the New York of five years ago. We are in transit to be the world benchmark for gastronomy and leisure”. Morales, who has worked in cities such as Barcelona, Girona, Berlin or Amsterdam, is clear about the special moment that the Spanish capital is experiencing. This is also helped by the figure of Dabiz Muñoz. “He is the total cook and he is Spanish. He is in excellent shape. Not only DiverXO or RavioXO, but then he is able to put a truck with puppies and they are rich. He transports you to what he wants ”.
In my future I would like to have three stars. I think there is still time
The last tattoo drawn on his torso is a squid with the body of a morel. “A sea and mountains”, she points out with a smile. He has been outlining his anatomy for a long time with different shapes and messages. “It’s one of my passions. There are also shoes, watches and motorcycles”. With his Honda NT 1100 he likes to hit the road, when the kitchen leaves room for him. “Along with meditation, these are moments of true disconnection.”
After this momentary break in his trip to the stars, he has had time to reflect: “The road has been long, I don’t know if I would do it again. I do not have it so clear. I was a neighborhood boy with many dreams and many hopes, and if I hadn’t worked hard I wouldn’t have left there. In this transition I have suffered, I have come to leave the kitchen, to study as a police officer. I had a restaurant and I was ruined. I have gone to coaching, psychologists, psychiatrists. Then you get older and you manage it differently”.
Her current routine involves getting up early “at five in the morning, although my daughter makes it difficult for me,” meditating, walking five or ten kilometers, training for an hour, and going out to work. Next goals? “I leave the star to return. And along the way I’m going to have fun, gather strength and think about how to get three”.
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