Paco Morales, Andalusia on a time machine

Restaurant Noor in Cordoba shows an important two-way road: culinary archaeology and inter-cultural dialogue as the foundations of every innovation

13-12-2021
by Gabriele Zanatta
Four of the 20 tastings from the Nuevo Mundo Andal

Four of the 20 tastings from the Nuevo Mundo Andalusí tasting menu, now available at Noor in Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain. Paco Morales's restaurant opened in March 2016 (photos from David Egui and Gabriele Zanatta)

«For the first time since we opened, we're also cooking tomatoes, potatoes, avocado, corn, pepper, cocoa. These are all ingredients that didn't exist in pre-Colombian Andalusia, the horizon of the menus of the first 5 years. I don't deny that these privations generated moments of creative crisis. But what we've done so far is extraordinary».

How could we argue with Paco Morales, the young man who cooks history? An enfant prodige of the Spanish vanguardia of the early Millennium, over time he wriggled out of liquid nitrogen and spherificationr to return to his childhood neighbourhood and open here his new restaurant. Only eight tables in Cañero, a barrio that until the Fifties had no paved roads and no electricity, in the eastern suburbs of Cordoba, halfway between Malaga and Madrid. He starts to blow on the old cookbooks of Islamic Spain, giving a contemporary appearance to the forgotten dishes of the al-Andalus, the time when the Moors subdued a large part of the peninsula that now includes Spain and Portugal. A very long time, from 711 to 1492, the year when Cristoforo Colombo discovered America, but also when Ferdinand II of Aragon arrived in Granada holding a crucifix, completing the Christian Reconquista.

Noor (“light” in Arabic) is not just a restaurant but a project of culinary archaeology that has no equal in the world. A place where historians, archaeologists, philologists, designers and cooks work uno al lado del otro to compose tasting menus that gradually get closer to our days.

On the 17th of March 2016, first day of opening, Morales debuted with the "Noor Year Zero” menu, an exploration of the Caliphate of Cordoba, a time that profited of the influence of the Omayyad dynasty, the same after which to this day is called the most glorious mosque in Damascus, Syria, which showed extraordinary cultural similes between Middle East and Cordoba. At the time, the Andalusian city was the centre of the empire, a richness proven today by its marvellous inter-religious architecture and by the spectacular flowered courtyards that portray cultural stratifications that have no parallel in Europe.

The entrance to the restaurant, 2 Michelin stars

The entrance to the restaurant, 2 Michelin stars

The dining room at Noor: one room, 8 tables, open view kitchen

The dining room at Noor: one room, 8 tables, open view kitchen

Every detail, from the dishing out to the dishes and the design, recalls the Andalusian world

Every detail, from the dishing out to the dishes and the design, recalls the Andalusian world

Paco and his historian Rosa Tovar analysed cookbooks like the one from Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq from Baghdad (10th century) finding many affinities with Andalusian manuscripts from the 13th century. Enough material to create a first menu that included the dietary habits of the time: lots of wheat and legumes, little fish (dried or preserved in salt), poor cuts of meat like heads, feet or entrails. Very little fruits and spices.

With the 2017 menu (Noor year 1) it's the turn of the Kingdoms of Taifa, many small mosaics followed the breaking of the Caliphate of Cordoba. Morales can introduce spices, orange flowers, roses, dates, walnuts, goat's milk. Emblem of the Berber, Arabian, Slavish people who landed in the peninsula in the 11th century. The third menu (Noor year 2), focused on the Almoravidi and Almohadi monarchy, 12th century, now making use of peaches and apples from Persia, apricots from Syria, pastilla and couscous, Andalusian bottarga and garum.

Noor 3 continued on the road of the kingdom of Nasrid, in the Middle Ages that led to the Modern Ear, while Noor 4 celebrated the first Retrospectiva, a moment to think (and improve) the dishes and techniques of the 4 previous menus. And so we arrive at the current menu, Noor year five (the sixth when counting menu zero). Theme: Nuevo Mundo Andalusí, an edible vocabulary that can now become endlessly rich thanks to the first explorations of the conquistadores in America.

«People don't fully get our work», Paco Morales says at the beginning of a fabulous ride of 20 tastings and 13 glasses at the end of November (every detail is in the photos below). Outside oranges explode on the trees of Cordoba and a powerful sun mitigates the unusually cold weather. «We cook beauty. Ideas and concepts of all the dominations that have appeared in our world, with current techniques».

Paco Morales, born in 1980

Paco Morales, born in 1980

Morales with Paola Gualandi, 24, from Lecco in Italy, more than a sous-chef at Noor: "When I'm away from the restaurant", he says, "I know she's there and I'm relaxed"

Morales with Paola Gualandi, 24, from Lecco in Italy, more than a sous-chef at Noor: "When I'm away from the restaurant", he says, "I know she's there and I'm relaxed"

This last aspect is perhaps the most interesting in Noor's approach: culinary archaeology isn't just about giving a new take to antique specialties. The past is always subjected to the present because only this way will the industry grow, gradually acquiring the dignity of a science, just like the other disciplines that have made the history of the West.

Paco Morales knows well how important it is to study but also to doubt the past, first of all because he was born in the business: his father used to run El Asador de Nati in Cordoba. Then, because in 2001, when he was only 20, he was already in Bilbao working as sous chef with Josean Alija, a young man who has always loved escaping paradigms. And in 2002 he was head of creativity and then head chef at Mugaritz in nearby Errenteria, the most avantgarde culinary lab of our time. And then he spent 3 crucial years at Bulli in Roses, Catalonia, the most influential establishment of the past 50 years, we'd say.

This was followed by some small undecided experiences before Noor. Of which we would like to point out another great merit: the brave capacity of joining two worlds that don't communicate as much as they should. The Mediterranean world is one, indeed, but it's as if there was a wall in the sea, separating north from south. With important consequences even on the fine dining of the last century, which was completely deaf to the technical and conceptual secrets of Arab gastronomy (above all, the harmonious fusion of sweet and salty). Noor thus indicates an important two-way road: past and inter-cultural communication as the necessary foundations of every possible innovation.

NUEVO MUNDO ANDALUSÍ, the 2021-22 menu
Ready, set go with the Nuevo Mundo Andalusí menu. Three options: Tahdir (95 euros, 11 courses), Rihla (130 euros, 15 courses), Wusul (190 euros, 20 courses). The respective Armonia de vinos wine pairings are 45, 65 and 90 euros

Ready, set go with the Nuevo Mundo Andalusí menu. Three options: Tahdir (95 euros, 11 courses), Rihla (130 euros, 15 courses), Wusul (190 euros, 20 courses). The respective Armonia de vinos wine pairings are 45, 65 and 90 euros

The tasting menu begins with some spectacular appetizers: Bread with habanero chilli pepper, pickled onions and albaqdunis ("parsley" in Arabic); Achiote (bixa orellana) with hibiscus and anise; Roasted pepper, sardine with its bone and caviar, Potatoes in layers, jamon iberico and scampi

The tasting menu begins with some spectacular appetizers: Bread with habanero chilli pepper, pickled onions and albaqdunis ("parsley" in Arabic); Achiote (bixa orellana) with hibiscus and anise; Roasted pepper, sardine with its bone and caviar, Potatoes in layers, jamon iberico and scampi

Beefsteak tartare with fried polenta, pine nuts and saffron

Beefsteak tartare with fried polenta, pine nuts and saffron

Almond curd with Araguani 100% Venezuelan cocoa

Almond curd with Araguani 100% Venezuelan cocoa

Andalusian mise en place. On the plate, Tomatoes, anchovies with pickled mandarin, monkfish in brine and tamarind

Andalusian mise en place. On the plate, Tomatoes, anchovies with pickled mandarin, monkfish in brine and tamarind

Karim ("cream" in Arabic) of pistachios, caviar of smoked herring and green apple with dark bread. One of the most celebrated dishes at Noor

Karim ("cream" in Arabic) of pistachios, caviar of smoked herring and green apple with dark bread. One of the most celebrated dishes at Noor

Gel of spinach, avocado, yogurt and soft almonds...

Gel of spinach, avocado, yogurt and soft almonds...

... next to White prawns marinated in carob and cascabel chilli pepper

... next to White prawns marinated in carob and cascabel chilli pepper

Velvety cod, beetroot, roman lettuce with caviar and egg yolk

Velvety cod, beetroot, roman lettuce with caviar and egg yolk

Stewed vegetables, corn sauce and black mole

Stewed vegetables, corn sauce and black mole

Seafood marinated in cucumber juice, chickpea hummus, snow of kefir and calamari

Seafood marinated in cucumber juice, chickpea hummus, snow of kefir and calamari

Grilled seabass with emulsion of its head, roasted pepper and toasted lemon. The frequent round dishes and the strong and elegant flavours are both noticeable

Grilled seabass with emulsion of its head, roasted pepper and toasted lemon. The frequent round dishes and the strong and elegant flavours are both noticeable

Roasted pigeon, 70% cocoa and recado. A fabulous intuition spurred from Mexican mole 

Roasted pigeon, 70% cocoa and recado. A fabulous intuition spurred from Mexican mole 

Next to the pigeon, they also served a fabulous mouthful of Caco, labne cheese and caviar

Next to the pigeon, they also served a fabulous mouthful of Caco, labne cheese and caviar

Lemon from Ceuta with bizcocho of hierbabuena mint, snow of coriander and black pepper

Lemon from Ceuta with bizcocho of hierbabuena mint, snow of coriander and black pepper

Gelato with mango, coconut and Kalamata olive gelato

Gelato with mango, coconut and Kalamata olive gelato

Carob with its bark

Carob with its bark

The scenic petit fours

The scenic petit fours

An impressive wine pairing conceived by sommelier Pilar Vidal. From the top left corner, clockwise:
- TBW Manzanilla en Rama, Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain
- Dulas Barrica 2019, Pedro Jimenez Seco, Lagar de la Salud, Montilla Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Riesling 2019, Domaine Trimbach, Alsace, France
- Bhilar Blanco, Bhilar, Rioja Alavesa, Spain
- Amontillado Galan Portero, Galan Portero, Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Riesling Spätlese 1989, Erdener Treppchen, Mosella, Germany
- Oloroso Asuncion Alvear, Alvbear, Montilla-Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Chardonnay, Dundee Hill, Oregon, United States
- Castro das Saíñas, Arane, Galizia, Spain
- Chateau Musar 2012, Gaston Hachar, Valle del Bekaa, Lebanon
- Moscatel de Alejandria, Pérez Barquero, Montilla-Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Brandy 100 anni Montecristo, Pérez Barquero, Montilla-Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
At the very end, we also got a blessed Don PX 1986 from Toro Albalà

An impressive wine pairing conceived by sommelier Pilar Vidal. From the top left corner, clockwise:
- TBW Manzanilla en Rama, Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain
- Dulas Barrica 2019, Pedro Jimenez Seco, Lagar de la Salud, Montilla Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Riesling 2019, Domaine Trimbach, Alsace, France
- Bhilar Blanco, Bhilar, Rioja Alavesa, Spain
- Amontillado Galan Portero, Galan Portero, Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Riesling Spätlese 1989, Erdener Treppchen, Mosella, Germany
- Oloroso Asuncion Alvear, Alvbear, Montilla-Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Chardonnay, Dundee Hill, Oregon, United States
- Castro das Saíñas, Arane, Galizia, Spain
- Chateau Musar 2012, Gaston Hachar, Valle del Bekaa, Lebanon
- Moscatel de Alejandria, Pérez Barquero, Montilla-Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
- Brandy 100 anni Montecristo, Pérez Barquero, Montilla-Moriles, Cordoba, Spain
At the very end, we also got a blessed Don PX 1986 from Toro Albalà

For more details, see "Noor" published by Montagud in Spanish and English. It explains in every detail the first three tasting menus served at the restaurant (2016-2018). You can buy it here

For more details, see "Noor" published by Montagud in Spanish and English. It explains in every detail the first three tasting menus served at the restaurant (2016-2018). You can buy it here


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