We were happy for Seamus Mullen, the Boqueria and Suba chef who was nearly crippled a few months ago by an acute attack of rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic joint disease. Mullen got some good news in this week’s Times review and is looking forward to seeing what Adam Platt has to say when his turn comes round. On the other hand, Mullen tells us that his diet is now permanently screwed up: He can’t eat tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, or any other member of the nightshade family — “which sucks, because all that stuff is in season right now and really beautiful,” he says. For the sake of his aching joints, the chef is also required to eat lots of oily fish. Luckily he has the cooking skills to make this blow bearable.
“It’s a challenge for me, because so much of what I ate was Mediterranean food, and that has nightshade at its center. I’ve had to figure out ways to cook what I need to eat,” says Mullen. He’ll typically make an anchovy paste with roasted garlic, pine nuts, citrus zest, and olive oil, and spread that on a thin crust pizza with some shaved fennel and caramelized fennel, or pickle his own mackerel with sherry vinegar and various spices, and then sear it on a plancha. He’s also come up with substitutes for tomatoes, replacing them with stone fruit: “In Spain apricots are used a lot with savory food, like roast pork.” Mullen is contemplating doing a joint-disease cookbook for his fellow sufferers, featuring Spanish recipes that are easy on the eyes and good for the ligaments. “This is the hand I was dealt,” the chef says. “I have to look at what my options are.”