Award-winning chef, NYC restaurateur (Tertulia), and cookbook author Seamus Mullen spends several hours in the kitchen on any given day. He also has rheumatoid arthritis, or RA—an autoimmune disease that causes chronic pain and joint stiffness and affects about 1.6 million people in the U.S. Coping with the disease means that time spent on his feet moving between burners and hot plates of haute cuisine is no easy task.
Mullen recently took a break from dishing up a special paella for the night’s dinner menu to tell us about cooking, sharp knives, and tips for managing the symptoms of RA in your own kitchen.
“I spend a lot of time on my feet in the kitchen, and since I live with RA it can sometimes be very challenging. But I’ve discovered along the way that good kitchen tools can make a huge difference,” he says. “Also, simplifying the prep work is great for any home cook, and it’s especially helpful for those of us who experience chronic pain.”
To this end, Mullen offered suggestions to make cooking easy in the kitchen (and on the joints).
- Sharp knives. Investing in good-quality knives takes pressure off shoulder, arm, and hand joints. “You’ll notice the difference immediately,” he promises. “Choose a knife with a weight and grip that feels comfortable in your hand. Or go to kitchen store such as Williams-Sonoma where they can walk you through the different brands. Everybody should have a good-quality chef’s knife and a paring knife. I also like to have a good serrated bread knife because it also works for other jobs, such as peeling squash. I definitely encourage people to buy individual knives instead of a whole set,” says Mullen.
- Smart appliances. Find kitchen tools that make cooking less intimidating. “Food processers are your friend if you do a lot of shredding and cutting. Find the best quality you can afford and let it do its job. My favorite tool is the hand blender: it makes mixing sauces and vinaigrettes really easy and is light, easy-to-clean, and versatile.”
- Floor mats. Cushioned, anti-fatigue mats redistribute weight to relieve pressure on feet, legs, and back. “Put one by the sink and another by the stove or counter,” he says. “I bought mine from overstock.com.”
- An efficient layout. Keep commonly used dishes and ingredients within easy reach, and store heavy items at waist height. “Another idea is using Lazy Susan trays to organize spices, vinegars, and oils in cabinets. This helps me quickly find what I need and avoid holding my arm for an extended period [of time] in a position that’s really hard on my shoulder joint.”
Mullen, known for his modern Spanish cuisine, is now a spokesperson for Rethink RA, an educational program funded by Pfizer to help people manage their disease.
“Developing a strong relationship with your physician is the first step in living well with RA. The second is realizing that you don’t have to live with pain. You can get better, and the website is a good place to start,” Mullen adds.
For more tips, plus easy recipes from the chef, go to RethinkRA.com/cooking.