Seamus Mullen, the chef and restaurateur behind Manhattan’s Tertulia, is changing his priorities. “I was sick for pretty much all of my 30s,” the 41-year-old says. Mullen overhauled his diet, cured his illness and now considers himself an ambassador for healthy living. While his popular Spanish restaurant empire is still going strong (he also runs the tapas restaurants El Colmado and El Colmado Butchery in New York), he’s also opening two new health-conscious establishments, one in Los Angeles and one in Brooklyn. “It’s my calling and my responsibility to try and help other people as much as I can. And for me the restaurant is really a great place to actually affect some change.”
What do you have to take into consideration when developing a hotel restaurant in Brooklyn?
We’re going to be in a hotel in a neighborhood that’s changing really quickly in a very dynamic park. We’re going to get several million visitors every summer. We’re kind of wedged in between two really cool neighborhoods in Brooklyn, just below Brooklyn Heights, Columbia Heights, which is a vey established residential neighborhood, and right next to DUMBO, which is where I live. A lot of people are moving into that neighborhood but there are very few good restaurants. It’s very underserved. I’m trying to create the kind of restaurant I want to go to because there isn’t one like that in my neighborhood.
The restaurant will be in a hotel, but that being said, we’ve worked really hard to create it as a space that just feels really comfortable to be in. The concept direction of the hotel is all around everything being natural, as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. So that dovetails really nicely with what we do in the restaurant and what my beliefs about food are.
What kind of food will the restaurant serve?
It’s not going to be Spanish. It’s going to be a very seasonal, local farm-to-table menu with an emphasis on healthy cooking. A lot of vegetables. It’s really going to be an expression of how I cook at home and how I eat, but in a restaurant setting. Wellness is very important to me, so there’s a lot of grilled vegetables and seafood.
We’ll have a cafe and a juice bar as well as a three-meal-a-day restaurant. So you can come in and have coffee and juice or light breakfast or light lunch or grab a snack and take it into the park. I really do think it’s going to be a staple in the neighborhood.
It sounds like you’re really using your platform as a chef to promote healthy living.
Absolutely. For me it’s important because I was really sick for a long time. I had rheumatoid arthritis and I overcame the disease with help from a terrific doctor, but probably the most important aspect of overcoming the disease was diet. So I really look at food as medicine and as the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. I was able to get my life back and reclaim my health through food.
My role as a chef is being an ambassador for that. And for me the restaurant is really a great place to actually affect some change. It’s super important that we look after ourselves, not only because we’ll feel better, but because if you’re a healthy person it makes you a better partner, a better employee/employer… You take care of yourself and you become less of a drain on resources to the greater society. That’s how we should be living. I feel as though it’s my calling and my responsibility to try and help other people as much as I can. I’ve changed my priorities over the years.
What is your menu like at Wanderlust?
It’s not your typical yoga food. It’s in a yoga center, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a vegetarian restaurant. It’s really about responsible cooking, using high-quality, seasonal ingredients and keeping it bright and vibrant and fresh.
The menu is largely plant based, which is also the way I eat, although I’m not a vegetarian. I personally don’t eat dairy, but I don’t have a problem with dairy. There will be some dairy on the menu. There are some things that I don’t eat at all like grains and refined sugar. But obviously being in a restaurant environment I need to make some concessions. I’m not going to force everyone to eat the same way that I eat.
You don’t eat any grains?
No, I don’t really eat carbs. I shouldn’t say I don’t eat any carbs, because I’ll have rice every now and then or a little bit of gluten-free oats. But very, very rarely. Like I said, I don’t eat dairy, but I’m not a stickler. If we have some really good cheese from a great source and I want to try it, I’ll have a bite of it. But it’s not a part of my diet. I don’t have ice cream after every meal or cheese pizza or any pizza for that matter.
We as human beings became far too dependent on carbohydrates. In this country and a lot of countries, we tend to eat 50 times more carbohydrates than we really need to. There’s lots of carbohydrates in plants. You get plenty of carbs. We didn’t start eating as many carbohydrates as we eat now until the 1920s really. It’s a very new way of eating. They’re crave-able and tasty and easy to like. And because we eat them our body craves eating them even more.
Carbohydrates essentially have a very similar effect on your body as sugar. They affect your blood insulin levels. It goes up and then it dips down, and when it dips down you need to regulate it. The easiest way to regulate it is by eating more sugar or carbohydrates. So when you stop eating carbohydrates, your blood glucose level becomes much more stable.
I don’t miss carbohydrates at all. I found that as I changed the way I ate, my metabolism changed. And because I don’t eat carbohydrates, my body doesn’t crave carbohydrates. Your body becomes fat adaptive. You start to burn your own body fat rather than being dependent upon carbohydrates. Anyone want to lose 10 or 15 pounds? Stop eating carbohydrates and it just goes away. The idea of carb-loading for exercise is a really dated way of looking at food nutrition.
It’s very easy for me to go 18, 24 hours without eating. It’s crazy only insomuch as we think it’s odd not to eat, but when our ancestors were hunters-gatherers, they would only eat when they had food. When there was no food they had to go without eating.
But you have to be in a restaurant all day. How do you not eat?
That is challenging. Two years ago I did a fast where I didn’t eat anything for nine days. I was in the kitchen so a lot of the stuff I had to taste I had to spit out.
Sounds like you could write a book about this.
Yeah, I’m writing one right now.
Alyson Sheppard writes about restaurants and bars for Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep