Tom Medvedich (photographer),
Marie Elizabeth Oliver (writer)
It takes serious chops to duke it out with the country’s best chefs in Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium, a challenge Seamus Mullen never took lightly. “It was intense, almost like hand-to-hand combat,” says Mullen, who fought his way to one of the top three spots in last year’s The Next Iron Chef competition. As the executive chef and co-owner of Boqueria, a Spanish tapas haven with two booming locations in Manhattan, Mullen thrives on intensity. Need proof? This guy cruises around the city in a Ducati Hypermotard, enjoys spearfishing, and has been butchering animals since before he had a driver’s license. His arms, inked with three-quarter sleeves, peek out of his chef’s coat as if to say, Don’t mess with me. But it’s not that black and white.
The artistry unfurling down his shoulders represents one of his core philosophies as a chef—a sensitivity to where the ingredients he cooks with come from. The jade-tinted design on his left arm features a dragon and chrysanthemums, while his right arm depicts clouds, cherry blossoms, and koi. “As a chef I get my materials from the sea and the land; these are combining the two together,” says Mullen when describing his tattoos, which were created by Kaz at New York Adorned.
Mullen gleaned this respect for food from his mother and grandmother while growing up on an organic farm in Vermont. Later, under the apprenticeship of Spain’s most illustrious chefs, he fell in love with the culinary traditions of Spain, specifically their holistic approach to food preparation. At Boqueria, Mullen combines that product-based methodology with technique and craft worthy of discerning New Yorkers’ palates. Both the SoHo and 19th Street locations boast menus that change daily based on what’s in season and available from local markets. “A really important part of what I do is not wasting anything,” says Mullen. “I believe in reverence of a product. When it comes to meat, if half of that animal ends up in the trash, it’s a waste.”
Mullen takes his ingredients so seriously that he has one of his favorites—an artichoke—tattooed on his solar plexus. “To me, the artichoke is the cult warrior of the vegetables,” says Mullen. Although he’s not ruling out the possibility of another restaurant or more tattoos (possibly his grandmother’s name), Mullen’s latest mission is working with the public school system to teach kids the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. No word on whether that will involve showing off his artichoke.