Q & A with Seamus Mullen
The perpetual wait at the sleek new Flatiron eatery suggests he must be doing something right – so does the two stars he received from the New York Times. Perhaps, it’s the simply prepared quail eggs with chorizo or a delightful snarl of cuttlefish seasoned with apple, plump peas, garlic and
Riding the recent success at Boqueria, Rochefort decided to revamp the space at his Lower East Side “other half”, Suba, enlisting Mullen to do the same with the menu. Think refined sharing as the chef ventures a sophisticated spin on Spanish cuisine. Boqueria’s cuttlefish special in tote, Mullen’s also conceived crispy frog legs with pickled cucumber & almond-dusted soft shell crabs.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
How did you get into food?
I grew up on a subsistence organic farm in Vermont so I was always surrounded by food. My grandmother went to the Cordon Bleu in Paris in the 30’s and has always had an appreciation for good food that invariably effected me growing up. I used to fish for brook trout and crayfish and she’d teach me how to cook them. One of my earliest memories of cooking was pan frying brook trout in brown butter with capers and lemons under the guidance of my grandmother. I think I was 9.
What was your first job in food?
Washing dishes and driving a delivery car for a Pizzeria called “Everything But Anchovies.” The car was a dying chevy Chevette and I was fourteen- my boss asked if I could drive, he never asked if I had a license.
What was the impetus behind doing Spanish tapas at Boqueria?
My partner Yann de Rochefort and I both spent a lot of time in Spain and fell in love with the simple food. I ended up cooking there for a few years in Michelin starred, high-end restaurants and I realized just how important the tradition was to the innovation. The Spanish avant garde is deeply rooted in traditional cookery and it’s that fundamental, product oriented cuisine that we wanted to do in New York.
What inspired the “reopening” of Suba and your relocation to that kitchen?
My background is not in traditional, rustic kitchens like Boqueria. Boqueria was a challenge to a degree. It was like getting back to basics that I never really had, I had to work hard at scaling the food back, at editing. After getting the restaurant off the ground, Yann and I had always talked about doing a more refined, directionally modern Spanish restaurant. It dawned on us that we had one already in Suba, it just needed to new life breathed into it. The architectural structure was there and it was impressive, but Yann had run out of funds when he first opened it and was never able to finish the restaurant the way it deserved to be finished. The kitchen had always been a major challenge to work in such a confined space, poorly organized, decayng equipment. So with the success of Boqueria, we decided to revisit Suba. The dining rooms have been refinished, the lighting has been updated, the flooring and bathrooms have all been remodeled, and the kitchen is finally comfortable and well-equipped.
Would you say your attempting to elevate Spanish cuisine to an modern, somewhat sophistacted realm just as Michael Psilakis aspires to do for Greek at Anthos. Thoughts…
I haven’t eaten at Anthos, but I think there are some parallels based upon what I’ve read. Spain has garnered a tremendous amount of interest in the international press, most notably for the hypermodern cuisine of guys like the Roca brothers, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Juan Mari Arzak and of course Ferran. There is another area of Spanish cuisine that I think is often eclipsed by these guys, it’s restaurants like Alkimia where modern technique is employed judiciously and only as necessary to accomplish the end goal. The food is deeply, deeply connected to traditional food, however it is “cocina del autor” or “chef’s expression” of traditional cookery. This is the inspiration for the food at Suba.
What’s your favorite dish on Suba’s new menu?
Hmm….well there’s a dish that was a special at Boqueria when we first opened, it’s a dish of spring peas with Cuttlefish a la plancha and raw cuttlefish. It’s finished with apples, mint and pea tendrils. It’s a really nice, delicate warm weather dish. I’m also very partial to the saddle of Vermont lamb. We render all the fat from the saddle and use it to slowly confit the lamb belly. It’s a refined lamb dish with a ton of old-world lamby-lamb flavour. The dish is finished with wild asparagus, Ceps, wood sorrel and a warm vinaigrette made from lamb jus and reduced Pedro Ximenez vinegar and a Cep oil made with all the trimming from the Ceps.
What’s your least favorite dish (and yes, you must pick one)?
Croquettes. I’m tired of croquettes, but people expect croquettes in a Spanish restaurant. We make them a little more interesting: crab with blackened corn, duck confit, Serrano ham and a green asparagus béchamel, but in the end they are fried croquettes.
What is your junk food of choice?
Bahn-mi ….Vietnamese sandwiches.
What are your favorite three restaurant go-to’s in NYC?
1. Peasant…I love this place, I have had nothing but wonderful food at Peasant.
2. Ichimura…a small, traditional sushi restaurant in the 50’s on the east side, the Chef Eiji Ichimura is a master.
3. Prune…I live across the street from Prune, it’s perhaps the best brunch in the city, at least the best bloody mary selection.
What culinary trend do you most embrace?
Traditional cooking, hidden artistry. The secret’s in the taste.
What trend do you wish would die already?
What’s next on the horizon for you? Any new ventures or restaurants in the works? Spill the beans…
We’re negotiating a deal with Disney, I’m thinking a Spanish theme restaurant with all the waiters in matador outfits…
Address: 109 Ludlow St., nr. Delancey
Address: 59 W. 19th St., nr. 6th Ave.
Until we eat again,
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