Why This Star Chef Always Packs Beef Jerky on a Plane

New York chef and global traveler Seamus Mullen gives his advice for staying healthy in the air.
Photographer: Colin Clark

At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And we want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to globe-trotters in all of our luxury fields—food, wine, fashion, cars, real estate—to learn about their high-end tips and off-the-wall experiences. These are the Distinguished Travel Hackers.

When they’re traveling, chefs can act a lot like normal people. Some, such as Dominique Ansel, have a proclivity for over-the-top late-night snacks like hot salt beef bagels. Others, just like everyone else, still go in for the occasional Hostess treat. But quite a lot of professional cooks have also adopted a healthier lifestyle, taking up high-protein, low-sodium snacks.

The benefits of a healthy diet may be most apparent in New York chef Seamus Mullen, chef and owner of the popular Spanish restaurant Tertulia and the El Colmado counter in New York. In 2012, his body had a negative reaction to the multiple immunosuppressant drugs he was taking to cure rheumatoid arthritis, and he barely survived a stay in the ICU.

But the bigger picture revealed years of the kind of unhealthy living that goes hand in hand with rising star chef status—rich foods, unlimited alcohol, and late-night partying—had finally caught up with him.

A nori wrap is an ideal in-flight, anti-inflammatory food.

Source: Simple Feast

So Mullen decided it was time to get clean, food-wise. He adopted a diet that was high-fat and low-carb, cutting out processed food and sugar while embracing acupuncture. Mullen has lost more than 60 pounds, has more energy, and has stopped making regular trips to the doctor and the emergency room. “Now I’m 43 and the fittest, healthiest I’ve ever been,” he says.

He also began writing health-oriented cookbooks. His latest one, Real Food Heals (Avery), comes out in August and highlights recipes such as kefir scrambled eggs with grated garlic and the PowerBar-styled fig almond cacao nib bars that have turned his life around.

“Before I began ‘healthy hacking’ my travel, every time I got on a plane, I got sicker,” says Mullen. “If your baseline is not feeling great, and then you get on a plane, guaranteed you’ll be in a worse place when you get off.” Here are Mullen’s tips before, during, and after you get on a plane.  

Embrace the hydrating effects of eye drops.

Stay super-hydrated. That means drinking a ton of water before flying and then filling up your water bottle after you get through security. Don’t count on just asking the flight attendants for water; it won’t be enough. For this reason, I also always choose an aisle seat because I know I’ll be making frequent bathroom stops. This is kind of a no-brainer, but choosing water over alcohol, coffee, or any sugary beverage is always going to keep you hydrated.

Also key to hydration is to make sure you don’t get too dried out from the canned air. You’re traveling through space in a metal tube at an incredibly inhuman altitude. Make sure you’ve got eye drops, plus saline for your nose. When your eyes and nose and mouth get dried out, you become much more susceptible to virus and bacteria.


Pack special socks.

Yalta, Russia - October 8, 2016: young girl runner running in rain in compression socks and running backpack during Crimea mountain marathon

Don’t forget your compression socks.

Photographer: sportpoint/Getty Images

I always fly with compression socks, the really high-quality athletic recovery ones. Many years ago, when I wasn’t healthy, I developed DVTs [deep vein thrombosis] after a long flight from Asia. They quickly moved to my lungs and I nearly died from pulmonary embolisms. It turns out most people develop DVTs when they fly, but the body reabsorbs the clots shortly upon landing. Having compression socks dramatically reduces the risk of DVTs by increasing circulation and reducing inflammation in the lower legs. I have a theory that they also help with mitigating jet lag—one of the key factors in jet lag is neurological inflammation.

Keep your blood circulating.

I’ve become an airplane yoga expert. I’m constantly stretching and getting out of my seat. On long flights, I’ll find extra space and do a few simple shoulder shrugs, back bends, and leg stretches. As soon as I land and get to my hotel, regardless of the time of day, I do a quick, intense 15-minute workout to jump-start blood flow. Then I lie on the floor with my legs up the wall for 15-30 minutes while catching up on emails on my phone. This helps the body acclimate to the new environment.

Bring your own food.

Anchovies can on black slate background

Anchovies might stink, but they help fight high altitude’s damaging effects.

Photographer: etorres69/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Here’s an unofficial statistic: 99 percent of airplane food is garbage. Plus, plane meals are generally served at odd times that don’t necessarily jive with our own schedules. I used to eat on planes whether or not I was hungry, and then I’d feel crappy. Now I have a big meal before I fly, so that I’m not starving when attendants offer me bad food they’ve reheated on board. I also pick a place that I’m excited to eat at, at my destination, so I have a meal to look forward to. It’s yet another motivation not to eat on the plane. 

I also pack my own airline snacks. I always bring grass-fed beef jerky with no sugar. Even though it’s salty, it’s good protein and satisfying, and grass-fed beef has enzymes that help reduce inflammation. Plus, it requires a lot of chewing, which keeps you in check. And you won’t overeat it, like you will potato chips and pretzels—at some point, you just can’t eat any more jerky.

My packets of cured meats—I’m talking Iberico ham, chorizo, and lomo, first-class cured meats—are also good for making best friends with your aisle mates. Also on the “always pack” list: macadamia nuts, toasted seaweed sheets (it has anti-inflammatory properties, too), clementines because they’re small and pack easily, and low-sugar energy bars. I like RX Bars and Health Warrior chia seed bars best.

Worth the effort: making a tuna kimchi wrap for the flight.

Photographer: Seamus Mullen

If you have time to prep, make a salad that includes avocado, sardines, anchovies, tuna, or mackerel. If you've got seaweed, turn it into a wrap. Oily fish tend to be good for keeping inflammation down and are therefore worth it, even if they are a bit stinky and alienate fellow passengers. But it’s worth it.

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