Seamus Mullen of Boqueria Talks Tapas, a New Cookbook, and Why You'll Never Hear Him Bitch About a Critic

Seamus Mullen of Boqueria was one of the chefs asked to contribute to The Book of Tapas, the follow-up to Spain's 1,080 Recetas de Cocina. He, like Alex Raij, says the original is something he refers to regularly, as a sort of bible of Spanish cooking basics. Earlier this week, he shared a recipe from the book. But, as it turns out, he has his own cookbook on the way.

Tell me about The Book of Tapas and what you contributed.

They contacted me and asked if I wanted to do a second run that would focus on tapas. They wanted to feature 10 chefs and wanted a few dishes that exemplified our cuisine at Boqueria. So we gave them a few things that you can find all the time at the restaurant.

Was the original book something you're familiar with or you referred to? Oh, definitely. I had an old copy of the original one in Spanish and have one at home and one in each restaurant. We don't actually cook from it too much, but we use it for original sauces and such. For inspiration, we definitely go back to it.

Why do you think tapas seem daunting for someone to make at home?

The only reason I could think that tapas would seem daunting is that you've got to produce a lot of different things. We're more used to doing a meal with a roast or a salad or whatever. Tapas is great for entertaining, though. You can set up a bar in your house with tapas for grazing. Generally speaking, tapas can be anything from the most simple, mundane, but delicious things to something that's totally involved and complex. Some of the best tapas are a piece of toast, good anchovies, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Any plans to do your own cookbook?

I am currently working on a cookbook, yes.

Is it tapas or general Spanish food?

It's my cuisine with a large focus on Spanish food, but my take on Spanish food. It's a lot of classic stuff. They're all my own dishes, but there's definitely a heavy influence on Spanish cuisine. It's due out in August 2011.

Speaking of books, Anthony Bourdain's new book calls out a certain critic. What do you think about chefs who talk back to critics?

I think it looks really bad if someone gets a bad review, then starts bitching about it. Generally speaking, when there's a bad review, there's some truth to it. Don't play victim and start bullshitting and whining. Unless it was really, really bad. A lot of times, food critics can be extremely irresponsible and don't understand that people's livelihoods are at stake, people's families. When a critic from The New York Times comes in a restaurant, they decide whether or not the restaurant is going to survive. That's a tremendous responsibility. If you're going to judge restaurants, make sure you're being a fair judge. But, at the same time, I've read about tons of chefs who -- I'm not going to name names -- take out personal vendettas. They just go ballistic, using Twitter or whatever to fight back. I think it's kind of silly. I don't know what Bourdain's take on it is, but my feeling is shut up, put your head down, and fix your problems.   So, what is the last thing you read?

I read a ton of books all at once. I'm reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair right now. I'm reading a lot of books about gardening because I have a roof garden. I'm learning about growing tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers and eggplant. I live near the restaurant, so I'm planning on using some of the produce at the restaurant. I'm going to have enough tomato plants that should be able to provide tomatoes for the restaurant and peppers, as well. I'm already using herbs from the garden in the restaurant.

Where do you like to eat in the city when you're not at your own places? For Spanish food, I think Txikito is wonderful. Alex [Raij] and Eder [Montero] do great food. They're wonderful people. Really kind, generous, and very talented cooks. I'm really glad we're in the same space in New York. I don't feel like there's really a competition between us. She's been very supportive of Boqueria.

I also love Locanda Verde. Andrew Carmellini does sort of an Italian take on what we do. George Mendes does really nice food at Aldea. I had a great meal the other day at ABC Kitchen. I go out for sushi more than anything else. There's a great place in Midtown called Sushi Zen. The owner is just a really great guy, a great educator. He teaches a class once a month that I take. He's a brilliant, brilliant sushi chef.

At Boqueria you have specials for the World Cup. Are you into it?

I'm totally into it. For every day there's games in the morning, we're opening for breakfast. We're going to show games in the restaurant and we're starting a small World Cup menu, mostly small sandwiches and pastries. I'm really excited to watch the games at the restaurant.

Are you more excited about Spain or the U.S.?

I'm going to withhold comments for now. I like to go for the underdog. We'll see whose team manages to stay in and that's who I'll be rooting for.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview ...

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