Long before Schiller's and WD-50 there were a sprinkling of restaurants in the LES and a tiny restaurant on Clinton St. named Suba. I met Seamus Mullen back in the day when he was the chef/owner of Suba, an experimental all raw restaurant serving uniquely manipulated raw fish and shellfish. Then Seamus disappeared and went to Spain where he worked under some of the most noted chefs in the world doing what everyone is now doing. And in 2006 came Boqueria, the brain child of his travels, an upscale tapas bar in the Flatiron, and a Bruni-anointed 2-star restaurant.
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There are cooks and there are chefs. Seamus Mullen is a driven chef with a creative sensibility you cannot teach a cook. It's innate. He can cook his butt off and still decorate a plate prettily and poetically like an artist. He maintains a low-key profile meanwhile getting the respect from an industry that still counts the worth of a chef on the amount of years spent in the kitchen.
With his newly opened Boqueria Soho, GofG celebrates its success and hears what Seamus Mullen has to say.
What is your least favorite food question? I find everyone loves talking about food at the moment.I always get asked if I "always wanted to be a chef." When I was a kid I had no idea what I wanted to do. I became a cook because I enjoyed it and was good at it, but didn't think of it as a career until I was 22.
Are you over the 'recession chic' attitude? How is your Sunday special doing? Recession chic? Well Boqueria was already affordable and accessible before the bottom dropped out of the economy so fortunately we haven't had to re-invent our concept. The Sunday Supper was more about creating another reason for folks to come in on Sundays. I wanted to bring back suckling pig, something we have been known for but haven't done in a while, and provide serious value for our guests.
Boqueria.... it's spanish but you can't eat it everyday. What are your back up cravings? I love Japanese food- the pickles, the vegetables, the subtlety of flavors, the various temperatures of the food. I'm also a big fan of good Mexican food. I can't wait for the vendors to open at the soccer fields in Red Hook, it's the only place for Mexican food in New York.
You know I have to ask this. Where are your favorite places to eat?In Axpe in Basque country there's an incredible place called Extebarre- everything is grilled, it's amazing. I love Singapore for the hawker stalls. In New York I love Marco Canora's restaurants, I always have great food at Peasant, I used to go to this amazing Sushi place in the fifties on the East side called Ichimura, but Chef Eiji Ichimura got very ill and had to close. It was so good. Akhtar does really nice food at Elettaria, everything is always super tasty.
Do people find you seductive because you are a chef?Uh...well, people are always intrigued by chefs, there's a fascination with food, particularly in New York. Food certainly is sensual and a moderately handsome guy can be transformed into a sex symbol if he can make great food.
Worst kitchen story ever.....Worst kitchen story? Well I'm afraid I'm rather tame, I don't have any raunchy walk-in sex stories or late night on table 20 with the lights off. Seamus... I asked "Worst kitchen story ever" not "Best kitchen story ever"! I can see where the last question left your mind...
Why do reviews and stars still matter? Word of mouth is more powerful, no?Word of mouth is obviously powerful and repeat guests are the key to success in New York, but it's the reviews that create the initial buzz and start getting people through the door. Once they come in, it's our job to take exceptional care of them and make them want to come back.
How is it being in Soho now in the old Kin Khao space?It's a great space, it's really nice having the open kitchen and being able to see people having a great time. The thing that I find most rewarding about Boqueria is that our guests really do have a fantastic time. When I look out into the dining room, I see a crowd of smiling, laughing fun-loving diners. That's incredible satisfying to me.
Don't you love being a chef? I am much happier than I would be if I were a dentist, yes. It can be exhausting and it can be stressful, but it is rewarding and I am lucky to do something I really enjoy and to work with wonderful people that I enjoy spending time with.