By Maya Silver | Editor
What do heavy metal musicians, inmates, and chefs have in common? A tendency toward tattoos. We’re not sure why ink is such a common sight in restaurant kitchens, but we’re all about it. So we rounded up some awesome local chef tattoos, and got the stories behind the ink.
My tattoos are always a work in progress–I’m constantly thinking about and designing the next phase. I choose designs that reflect my Hawaiian heritage. They make me feel the pull of my culture and the passion of my craft. I have a Hawaiian octopus holding a wooden spoon, an egg cracked inside of a tropical flower … I think they’re strong yet delicate.
Executive Chef/Owner Ryan DiFranco, DiFranco’s
Why did I get tattoos? Because they are addicting. That’s only part of the reason [laughs]. Actually, the owl represents the protector in parts of Sicily, which is where my family came from. It also signifies wisdom. I would like to think I’m pretty wise for being so young. And the significance of a bird to me represents the idea of flying and continuing to live and enjoy life.
The bottom right picture is a tattoo on my right rib that represents the women in my life–my rocks, if you will. The calla lily represents me, the monarch butterfly is for my mom, and the wild strawberry is for my grandma. The tattoo on my left shoulder is my interpretation of Madame butterfly. On my right foot, I have cherry blossoms. The one on my right ankle is legit–it’s my first tattoo, my sign–Gemini.
I also have a dragonfly on my left ankle. I find tattoos fascinating and intriguing. I love how ink tells a different story and conveys different meaning from person to person.
Executive Chef Matt Selby, Central Bistro Bar
95-percent of my tattoos are food-related … the sacred peach, the dashi bonito fish, the Explorateur cheese label, Wonder Bread … we have options!
The reasoning behind the foie gras tattoo on my knuckles is that, well, I think that I always knew I wanted to tattoo my knuckles–even as a kid. But it really took me quite a bit of time to decide on what words … it hit me like a bolt of lightning on a drive home one night in 2006 that foie gras fits perfectly. So really, it’s not that I’m obsessed with foie gras, it’s just one of my favorite ingredients that happens to fit my knuckles!
Executive Chef Ty Leon, Mizuna
Octopus is my favorite sea creature, and I love tuna. I was 18 years old and knew I wanted to cook, so the tattoo marks that point in my life.
Chef Brandon Tucker, Mizuna
The knife is a bit of a nod to my dad–it’s his. The anglerfish doesn’t have much of a story. It’s just an awesome looking fish, and I love the ocean. The salt shaker is a reference to the kitchen, so in a way, it’s a tattoo about my two loves: the ocean and cooking.
Chef Ben Whelan, Mizuna
My tattoos cover the basic meat groups, and I’ll eventually have the basic food groups. Vegetables are next.
Sous Chef Lee Reitz, Luca
When my younger sister was 17, she wanted to get a tattoo with me. We were in Texas, and didn’t know that you had to be 18 or older–even with the permission of a parent. She couldn’t get one, but I went ahead and got one. The knife and fork are a reference to my appreciation for cooking and dining.
Executive Chef/Owner Justin Brunson, Old Major
I’m a butcher and I love the state of Iowa–hence the pig inside the state of Iowa. I grew up in Cedar Rapids. I’m pretty proud of where I’m from and I’m proud of what I do everyday, too.
I have a tribute to Hawaii (including a Spam can), an Anais Nin [a Cuban author] piece, and some mirepoix. Most of my tattoos are based on me and my life. Mirepoix is the base of most cooking and the foundation of a lot of sauces, soups, and stocks. Spam is what I grew up on living in Hawaii. And the Hawaii tribute represents my childhood and where my heart is–my parents still live out there. It includes a tiki man, a volcano, the island chain, hibiscus, and waves on rocks. I also have the word “salt” on my right knuckles because everything needs more salt.
Brunch Chef Johnny Formento, Old Major
I’m from Philly. I don’t miss Philly, but I miss the East Coast food so I got a Philly cheesesteak. And I’m a cook so I gotta have a Swedish chef from The Muppets. And the one on my forearm is all the utensils you cook with.
I got my first tattoo at 17. I have one whole leg of food. I’ve got one of the Steuben’s girl. I’m 32 hours in on a full body suit with a Japanese theme. I got “clog life” tattooed on my ankles to enter a contest to win a free pair of clogs. I didn’t win because I didn’t qualify for the contest, but they still gave me two free pairs of clogs.
I started getting tattoos at 18. They’re all kind of a story of certain periods of your life. The entire Ace opening staff got the Ace lightning bolt on their hands from my tattoo artist. It was a bonding experience. I got my hot dogs in Vegas.
I have a koi fish and an Asian dragon. I spent eight years working in Asia and I found these two images very symbolic of my beliefs and what I’m passionate about. I love feng shui and koi fish represent calm, tranquility, good fortune, success, prosperity, longevity, courage, ambition, and perseverance. The Asian dragon symbolizes strength and power, spirituality, wisdom, longevity, and prosperity. These are all things I feel I embody.
Executive Chef Lou Ortiz, Los Chingones
“Keep it fresh” was a saying I used all the time in my preparations that grew to be much more than that. Later on in my life, that saying became a coaching tool I used for employees, and something I could apply to anything–whether it was keeping the kitchen fresh, or your uniform fresh, or your personal life fresh.
The intention of keeping your life fresh as a whole became my focus. It only made sense to tattoo it on myself as a constant reminder of my goal. Now, within the TAG Restaurant Group where I work, it holds stock as an identifier of our mission to keep it fresh by leading in innovation, creativity, and, of course, the revolution of sourcing fresh product. There’s only one way we keep it: fresh.
Sous Chef Shaun Motoda, TAG
My tattoos represent my family and where they came from in Japan. The snake represents my mom, who was born in the year of the snake and who brought me up to be the person I am today. The
Baku is a an Asian creature–something that is said to get rid of nightmares. The hand is for the Japanese spirit. The
Daruma dolls are for good luck and perseverance.
Pastry Chef/Cake Artist Kelly McGeehan, Sugarmill
My tattoo shows my favorite ingredients to cook with: honey, vanilla, and lavender.