How to Make Cooking With RA Fun

New York City chef Seamus Mullen follows this kitchen motto: Work smarter, not harder!

Lori Murray
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There’s no need to let arthritis pain and fatigue win out over a delicious home-cooked meal, says The Next Iron Chef star Seamus Mullen. If he’s learned anything in the five years since his rheumatoid arthritis (RA) diagnosis, it’s this: With the right tools and planning, you can enjoy making good-for-you food that tastes good, too. Here, the 37-year-old chef-owner of the Manhattan restaurant Tertulia dishes on how to bring joy back into the kitchen.

Beat fatigue with….

  • Leftovers: Take advantage of the days when you have more energy by doubling recipes for soups, stews and sauces. Then store half in the freezer for when you’re too tired to cook.
  • Smart storage: Cut down on bending and reaching by keeping frequently used items at waist level. For example, Seamus stores his spices in a drawer rather than a cupboard. Another tip? Keep your favorite pots, pans and appliances on the counter.
  • Easy cleanup: Dodge crusty cookware by cooking one-pot meals like soups and stews. If you’re roasting or baking, line the pan with foil or wax paper so you won’t have to scrub it later.
  • A four-legged friend: Keep a stool in the kitchen so you can give your joints a break when chopping.
  • A cake tester: Seamus uses one to test the doneness of everything from croquettes to fish. The benefit? No more lifting pans in and out of the oven for a quick look-see. Try a long tester (8 inches) with a rubber grip.

Sidestep pain with…

  • The push of a button: It’s worth investing in a food processor, says Seamus. “Prepping and chopping are probably the hardest kitchen tasks when you have RA.” He uses a food processor to do everything from slicing, shredding and chopping to making smoothies. A cheaper, though less versatile, option is a mini-chopper.
  • Under-the-feet relief: Put a rubber or gel-filled fatigue mat wherever you do lots of standing, like near the sink or stove. Seamus and other pro chefs (even those who don’t have arthritis) use this mat to relieve joint pressure and back pain caused by long bouts of standing.
  • An immersion blender: “Because I have shoulder pain, whisking is a problem for me,” notes Seamus. He uses a lightweight immersion blender to whisk eggs and fold in soup ingredients directly in the pot without exerting any effort.
  • Skinny cookware: Take the pressure off your joints by swapping heavy pans and glass for ceramic bowls with their lighter counterparts made from plastic and nonstick aluminum. Another tip: Distribute the weight by using cookware with two handles and baking pans with silicone grips.
July 2012