An Edible Cure
All day and into the night, a chef uses his hands and stands on his feet.
Chop a hundred onions; peel a hundred pounds of potatoes; scale, gut and fillet 50 red snappers. And don’t sit down. Not for a second.
This was the life of Seamus Mullen, a rising star among Manhattan’s young chefs, before and after he opened Boqueria in 2006, an authentic Spanish restaurant in Nehew York’s Flatiron district.
Mullen had an athlete’s relish for pushing himself to the limit, but early one morning in his apartment, when Boqueria was just eight months old, he felt a blaze of excruciating pain in his hip joint. The agony was so fierce he could not even get to the phone to call 911. Finally, after hours of debilitating pain, he heard the footsteps of a neighbor and screamed for help. It took 10 days in the hospital, an MRI and much medical detective work before the doctor came to a diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis. And the doc said the condition would almost certainly get worse over the course of Mullen’s life.
He was only 33 years old.
Looking back over the previous couple of years, Mullen began to sort out the times when his pain was most severe from the times when it lifted, and he eventually realized that certain foods were associated with the periods of pain relief. He started experimenting–eliminating this, adding that–until he discovered that at the heart of the traditional Spanish cuisine that he had been perfecting for years were a few simple ingredients that seemed to relieve much of his inflammation.
Parsley. Anchovies. Carrots. Olive oil. Almonds. The more he discovered and ate what he was now calling his “hero foods,”¯ the better he felt.
Mullen studied Spanish literature in college, learning about classical French cuisine on the side, and then, after several years of restaurant cooking in San Francisco and New York, he found himself drawn back to Spain. By the time he returned to New York to open his own place, the culinary customs of Spain were in his blood.