Today I got to Interview Seamus Mullen an
. I hope you enjoy it!
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Seamus: Hey, did you get my text?
Ari: Say what now?
Seamus: I'm good to go; did you get my text?
Ari: It’s a lamp.
Ari: It was cool.
Seamus: Yeah, that’s my friend Ben. Oh shoot. I just went outside under the tree, is this going to be too loud?
Ari: No, it sounds okay.
Seamus: Does it sound okay because I can go downstairs? The problem is the connection is not so good downstairs.
Ari: Oh, no. This sounds really good actually.
Seamus: Ok, good. Perfect. Yeah. My friend Ben, it’s like yesterday when I was listening to Dave’s podcast about grass-fed beef, which is brilliant, and one of the things he was talking about was fermented hay.
Seamus: Obviously, the negative aspect of that, in terms of microtoxins that build up in the fermented grass…Ben also, we’re talking about Ben who I grew up with who raises these lambs that he gets, he feeds his lambs and sheep’s in the winter kind of a mix of dry and lightly wet baled grass. And I think there's actually, and this is where Dave and I kind of disagree because he’s a very anti dry aged vegan, these guys are anti-mold guys, I actually think that there's, I think there are some benefits. It all depends on what the mold is but there's some benefit to a probiotic feed like that. He’s noticed that fitness levels in his sheep has gone way down to actually a lot healthier more spry in the winter and I can tell you that the flavor is extraordinary. So, I'm not sure that I totally agree with the no feeding of fermented foods for grass-fed animals.
Ari: I actually, I agree and I was surprised about that because obviously the probiotics but it’s also…It seems to me, something that would naturally occur. I mean, it’s one thing if you take alfalfa and put it in the silo but it’s a totally naturally occurring; I don’t get it. I thought that seemed okay.
Seamus: Yeah and I think that part of it is inspecting it and making sure that it isn’t black mold and it’s not musty. I think that you get that with any hay that’s baled green anyway. There's a lot…I grew up on a farm and I grew up around this stuff but there's a lot of like dust and mites and mold that develops on hay if it’s not baled when it’s really, really dry. The problem with baling it when it’s really dry is you lose a lot of the nutrients in the grass. What happened with Ben was that they made a mistake 2 years ago and baled, they do those big marshmallow bales where they wrap them in thick plastic, and they baled a bunch of hay just a little bit too green. And when they broke into it in November he was blown away by how responsive the girls where to their grass; they loved it. Then, went through the winter without seeing any mucus on any of them and didn’t have any of them get bloated, didn’t have any of the issues that typically they will get sometimes. But he’s an incredible guy, somebody that I would love for you to talk to at some point because he’s…we grew up together, we were best friends when we were kids and he became a forester. He was a smoke jumper out west and then decided when his grandfather died and had a flock of 80 Tunis lambs which was the heritage breed that’s been around, in the 19th century, as one of the biggest meat breed in the US. It’s kind of all but disappeared. Nobody else in the family wants to take over the flock. He said, Fuck it. I'm 34 years old. I'm going to become a sheep farmer, and he move back to Vermont and took over this flock of his grandfather Tunis lambs; and he’s outgrown it. But I think he’s got 5 or 600 heads. It’s an entirely grass-fed program but because he slaughters them a little bit older and because the quality of grass… and they rotate them every 24 hours on pastures. Crazy amount of work but they're moving the flock every 24 hours so they're always getting fresh grass. It’s incredibly fatty and just amazingly delicious good, good lamb.
Ari: Cool, really cool. Can you hear me okay?
Seamus: I can hear you perfectly.
Ari: Yeah, I think there's a slight delay because the recording stopped but I love lamb. Lambs is honestly my favorite meat, so.
Seamus: Cool. Well, I will hook you up with Ben and you guys should maybe do a podcast; I think he’d be interesting to talk to.
Ari: Cool, okay. Yeah, I would love that. Actually, you know, I would have loved to interview this guy that Dave was interviewing but I really don’t have any connection with that person. I never had them [5:22] but what he had to say was so interesting. But, yeah, I think it would be really cool to get familiar with your friend.
Seamus: Yeah. I'm going to get some…Garret I think was his name. I got to go back and look at the podcast. He was a really interesting guy and very smart. I'm going to order some of his beef because I really want to try it. What he was saying about grass-fed beef…he likes grass-fed beef or kind of supermarket grass-fed beef, is totally true. I was listening to what he was talking about in terms of one, how the grass-fed now is a very powerful marketing brand and there's a right way to do it which is the way he does it. The way Ben does his lamb and then there's the way of treating it no different from any kind of seed lots beef where you're feeding them low quality hay and they're not getting it. They’re ruminant. They're not going out there and actually working to get the grass. They're not smart animals.
Seamus: They don’t have to be smart animals because they're just sitting waiting for food to be brought to them and there's a total difference. I think that the whole aspect of treatment of the avatuar and how if you pull it down too quickly, the animals go into rigor and they’ll come out of rigor and you end up with tough meat. I've seen that not only with beef but also with fish, with chicken, across the board. Like it’s almost some really big catch all phrase “air chilled chicken”. And that’s all great but it’s like if we rush things from hot to cold really quickly, the nervous system and all the muscles completely constrict; they go into rigor and then they don’t come out of rigor slowly, they come out of it quickly and you get damaged actual muscle in the meat and it makes it really chewy.
Seamus: It’s amazing how two decent pieces of meat can taste completely different just because of how they were handled in the last few moments of their life.
Ari: Would you consider yourself a supertaster?
Seamus: I've not been an active supertaster but I think that I follow the M. Like, I'm very, very good at identifying so many different foods and flavors between the same product from different sources, the same product from different kinds of beer and I think I have a pretty evolved and developed palate, right? I think I am probably a supertaster but I've never gone through any of the testing.
Ari: Okay. We could go on for hours; let’s start the interview. I want to talk about you as a chef and becoming a chef and sort of your food story. And then I do want to talk about how you got sick and sort of that journey and then we’ll talk about where you are now with things.
Ari: Welcome to the Less Doing podcast. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Seamus Mullen who is the executive chef at Petunia in New York City. He’s been a finalist for the next Iron Chef and he’s also an extreme athlete both on and off road bikes. So, Seamus, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Seamus: Absolutely, thanks for having me.
Ari: So, I want to start off and I know this is probably the most detailed thing you can give us but I do want to start by talking about your food journey and sort of how you became a chef and what food has meant to you and how you kind of grew up with it and what this meant to you.
Seamus: Wow, how much time do we have?
Seamus: I've been around…we've all been around food all of our lives but I think that a lot of us have not thought about food all of our lives. I've been really fortunate to have had an intimate relationship with food the majority of my life. I would say I kind of strayed a bit in my teenage years when I was in high school and I didn’t eat so well; I went away to boarding school and the food was…institutional food in a boarding school is not exactly the best thing to eat when you're going through your developmental stage and your hormones are changing. But, other than that part of my life, I've had a really, really strong relationship with food. I grew up on a small farm in Vermont. My grandmother on my mother’s side went to the court on Blue and Paris in the 1930s and my grandfather on my father’s side was the senior editor of Sunset magazine in California for 45 years. They were very involved in the California food movement of the 60s, 70s, 80s. so, I was kind of around both really, really good homegrown ingredients that my folks raised on the farm from vegetables to meat to homemade cheese and homemade yogurt and all that jazz to kind of a more refined upscale cuisine via both my grandmothers. I started cooking at a really young age so I started cooking, the first things I remember cooking were probably when I was 5 or 6, cooking with my grandmothers. I always kind of knew that food was always really important in my life. That kind of set some things in motion and then obviously I went to high school and I ended up going to Spain my senior year in high school as an exchange program. And that began a really, really long intimate love affair with Spanish food and Spanish culture and kind of set the wheels in motion for what became, evolved into being my career which is a chef, a professional chef. I cook predominately Spanish food; my own kind of brand of Spanish food, if you will. But I have always loved food and been very passionate about food and it’s been really in the past few years that my relationship with food has kind of changed significantly. And then now I really, I have a much more personal deep, intimate relationship with food than I ever had before and I've been able to really see a huge correlation between the food I eat and how I feel. I think of that is something that we all go through. I think we've been going through it more and more recently because of changes in modern food over the past 30 years but also because a lot of us are in our 30s or even older are seeing that while in our 20s we could do whatever we wanted. Ate whatever we wanted and still function at a pretty high level. You can’t really do that; most of us can’t really do that as your body starts to change and age. If you continue to abuse it or not feed it well, you're going to be performing at sub-par levels which is something that I'm willing to do at this point in my life.
Ari: So, obviously you…first of all, you’ve obviously experienced food in different ways from your culinary training but now to your, not now, but then you have a book that’s called Hero Food. You focus on food that make us healthier, right? And because nutrition really is sort of a backbone to that and a lot of people don’t really break down the elements of those things. So, why don’t you talk a little bit about some of those hero foods?
Seamus: Sure. The genesis for the book was really, came out of my own personal experience dealing with illness. I starting back in 2001 I started feeling very crummy and I wasn’t exactly sure why. In kind of a confusing way, just to make things even more difficult to understand why I was feeling crummy, I then got into a really bad motorcycle accident which made me feel even crummier but then made it hard for me to understand why I felt so awful. And eventually in 2007, I started having really severe flare-ups and was eventually diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. That’s when I started to see a huge correlation between how I treated my body with what I put into and how my body responded and how I felt. I learned pretty quickly that there was a direct correlation between what I ate and how I felt. I try to consume as much information I could about food and wellness and the impact of nutrition on our health and all of this. I found this, there are a lot of books, cookbooks in particular, were written by people that may have had very good intentions and known a lot about nutrition and a lot about science and medicine or maybe they didn’t, who knows? But they didn’t seem to know very much about food and about making food taste really good. The old kind of classis story where you go to the health food store and the guy at the checkout counter is the most unhealthy looking person you’ve ever seen [15:20] and just doesn’t look very fit and healthy. I felt as though health food or food for wellness, if you will, was really suffering from the stigma of being undelicious food. Food you really didn’t want to eat but you ate because you felt obligated to eat like eat your greens, for instance. My experience growing up around really wonderful ingredients was that that was not the case. Good food, health food, healthy food should be delicious food. So I wanted to kind of tell that story from a perspective of someone who really cares about food tasting good to help people understand that to eat well doesn’t mean you have to forgo flavorful food. You can eat really well and you can eat really for wellness. You can eat to help yourself heal the things like inflammation. Do it in a way that’s really, really delicious and I think a lot of the time, even when I was first diagnosed with RA, I had everybody coming to me. And one thing about, and you know this Ari having gone through Crohn’s, is that you get so much unfiltered advice. Everybody wants to tell you exactly what you need to do and how it’s going to heal you. at a certain point you're like look, if you don’t experience what I experience, you don’t know what I'm going through every day so don’t tell me not to eat this and not to eat that and not to eat this. I got really sick of seeing all of this sort of elimination stuff and I felt like really was the wrong approach to food. If food is about fueling your body for wellness then why are you talking about taking all these things out your diet? Shouldn’t we be talking about integrating more things that are really good for you into your diet? Shouldn’t we be celebrating food rather than punishing ourselves. Certainly, there are a lot of foods that I don’t eat although those foods I wouldn’t eat them because first of all they call them food. Things that I consider real food I eat. Things that are not real food for the most part, I don’t eat. But my way of eating and my lifestyle is not a diet; I hate the word diet particularly as a verb. It really is about integrating things that are good for you, for me that make me feel good and into the way I eat. That’s the very verbose response to what the book is all about. The book is broken down into 18 chapters and each chapter is an ingredient and the ingredients are things like good meat and good bird and good fish and almonds and anchovies and leafy greens. The idea is to take an individual ingredient and really explore different, unusual, and exciting ways to cook with them that are delicious. They're really about celebrating an ingredient and getting more of those things into your body because they are so the foundation of wellness is what you put into your body. I'm blown away at the wisdom of all of these old adages like you are what you eat and you gotta eat a pound of dirt before you die. I'm sure you're familiar with the whole idea of dropping the baby’s pacifiers on the ground and do you wipe it off or do you sanitize it?
Ari: Right. I usually just put it in my mouth and put it back in theirs.
Seamus: Exactly. One of the things that blows me away is you look at traditional cultures around the world and they’ve almost all consumed fermented foods on some level. In our kind of collective unconscious, we’ve known that we need to feed our gut with bacteria to be able to have a strong and healthy immune system.
Ari: I want to actually stop you before you get too far because you have a really good point. You covered like 4 or 5 really important points that I want to address. So, the first one is for everyone listening. Those who don’t know rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune diseases and it causes chronic inflammation. Very similar in a lot of ways to the way Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation. Very similar in the way that many illnesses are autoimmune and cause chronic inflammation. That inflammation results in pain; it results in malnutrition. It results on so many…