Seamus Mullen, of New York City’s restaurant Tertulia, has long had a crush on Spain and Spanish food. As a high school student, he spent time in the Asturias region, the country’s northern agricultural heart, and later continued his studies in Spanish literature at Universidad Autonoma de Extremadura, in Cáceres.
Mullen was so taken with Asturias that when, in 2011, he opened Tertulia, he let the rustic cider houses of the region be his guide. From classic jamón ibérico and serrano to tapas like smoked pig cheek and choclo (crispy hominy, pork belly, lime aïoli, cilantro, and chile), pork is given its due on Mullen’s menu. And the room, said The New York Times was designed to “give visitors the feeling that they’re sloshing back hard cider in an Asturian village tavern where hams and sausages dangle from the ceiling, and old men while away the hours.” Even the name Tertulia seems suited for talk-filled Spanish nights. It means a salon or gathering place for literary conversation.
The very same year Tertulia opened, it was named one of the city’s top ten new restaurants by New York magazine and The New York Times, and in 2012 Mullen was voted Chef of the Year in Time Out New York’s Food and Drink Awards.
Mullen got his start on his family’s organic farm in Vermont, where he learned the kitchen arts from his mother and grandmother. But when he got serious about making cooking his career, he headed to San Francisco, and worked on the line at Mecca, with chef Mike Fennelly, and in New York at Tabla with chef Floyd Cardoz.
Before there was Tertulia, there was Boqueria, the hip tapas restaurant Mullen opened in 2006, in the Flatiron District. And before there was Boqueria, there was Crudo, a downtown Mediterranean fish-centric spot. And even earlier, a two-year stint at chef Andoni Aduriz’s Michelin two-star Mugaritz, in the Basque region, and at Barcelona stars Abac and Alkimia. Culinarily, Mullen hasn’t looked back.
A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis led the chef to write the 2012 cookbook Seamus Mullen’s Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Food Makes Us Feel Better, which, in its Spanish-influenced recipes, spotlights 18 ingredients (“hero foods”) that have helped Mullen return to good health. Mullen has also joined his fellow tattooed chefs in a tribute cookbook, Eat Ink: Recipes. Stories. Tattoos, by Birk O’Halloran and Daniel Luke Holton.
In 2013, Mullen launched tapas spot El Colmado in the New York food hall Gotham West Market. And on deck is a project with the Starwood Group’s 1 Hotels, to open a farm-to-table restaurant in its Brooklyn location.