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11 Badass Chefs Reveal the Sentimental Stories Behind Their Food-Inspired Tattoos
There's more to that inked-on pig or knife than meets the eye.
Food trends come and go, but a chef’s love for food is permanent—just like their tattoos.
It’s not uncommon to see plenty of ink in the kitchen. After spending so much time handling cooking tools, eating elaborate dishes, and experimenting with ingredients, it's no surprise (body) art imitates life. In addition to getting inked with meaningful quotes and loved ones’ names, chefs dedicate a substantial amount of space on their skin to display their food-focused passions.
Check out these 11 chefs’ creative foodie tattoos and read what inspired them.
1. A Skeleton Chef, Fish, Lemon, Garlic, Basil, and Veggies
“My left arm has an entire tattoo sleeve that’s completely food-related. The first thing I got was a dead fish, a koi, more than a decade ago in Nashville. I got it for two reasons: I was working in the food industry and one of the things that I loved—and still love—doing most was cleaning and breaking down fish. The second is that getting a koi tattoo is considered good luck. Now, I have three dead koi on my arm. Over the next 10 years, I added a lot of different fruit and vegetables that I love like lemon, garlic, bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and artichokes—there’s an entire salad on my arm. I also have a skeleton chef and basil. My daughter’s name is Basil, so that one’s particularly special to me.” – Garrett Pittler, Executive Chef at City Winery Nashville in Nashville, TN
“A long, long time ago, I was a six year-old little girl at Disney World with my mom. I will never forget walking along Main Street. As I looked through the window of the bakery, I saw pastry chefs using balloon whisks and I told my mom ‘I want to do that.’ That’s how it all started. Now I get to live my dream as a pastry chef. It took me three years and two margaritas to finally get my whisk tattoo. I jumped on the trolley and headed to Bay City Tattoo in Ybor City. No regrets." – Alicia Wolding, Pastry Chef at Dough in Tampa, FL
“The Stella's tasting spoon has lived above the line at the restaurant for 11 years, and we use it to taste our soups and sauces before we decide whether they are finished. Nine or 10 of the most dedicated members of the Stella's family decided to get the tasting spoon emblazoned on our bodies forever. I got mine on my wrist. It is the only tattoo I have, and I love it. My children cried when I showed it to them.” – Lester Miller, Chef & Co-Owner of Stella's Kentucky Deli in Lexington, KY
4. Burner Eye
“This piece was done by Rodney Raines in Charlotte at Ace Custom Tattoo almost 15 years ago. It took about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to do. The significance of the tattoo is that I was offered my first executive chef position around that time, at a different restaurant, and was debating whether or not to take it. The position would have been a huge step in my career, but my hesitation was that it was with a corporate restaurant group. I decided to pass on the opportunity and got this tattoo, so that I would never be able to go to a corporate group, and instead, stay true to my artistic craft.” – Jamie Lynch, Executive Chef at 5Church in Charlotte, NC, Charleston SC, and Atlanta, GA and former Top Chef cheftestant
5. Wings Made Out of Chef's Knives
“Growing up, my mother had a necklace with two chef's knives on it, inspired by the last series of Andy Warhol paintings, which I coveted and she would never give to me. It wasn't until the client from my first catering job cornered my mother and told her about how happy she was with the job I'd done that my mother decided to pass it on. This interaction legitimized my career choice in her eyes and gifting me the necklace communicated that to me. Years later, I was completely devastated when I lost the necklace. In 2011, I visited Mark Mahoney who gave me the most beautiful set of chef's knives wings, inspired by the necklace, so I would always have them with me." – Nina Clemente, Executive Chef at The Standard Plaza in New York City
6. Lloyd's BBQ Pig
“The tattoo is a picture of a pig from a butcher cut break down with my given first name, and BBQ. It looks like an old sign from the 50s. I got this about 13 years ago, and it took two days. It was done in San Francisco. It’s meaningful because at the time, my life was filled with fine dining, and it reminded me of grassroots cooking and home—just really not thinking that I was some badass chef. It’s about where I want to be. Just me, a fire, a glass of bourbon, some tough piece of meat, and turn[ing] it into something. Most people don’t understand what central Texas barbecue is. It’s about not taking everything we do as chefs so seriously. Just slow down life and enjoy what we have around us. It’s not my first tattoo, but the only one food related. I raised a pig when I was a kid. His name was Little Bit, so I have this fondness for pigs. It makes me think about him every day.” – Wesley Shaw, Executive Chef of Presidio Social Club in San Francisco, CA
7. Garlic, Beets, and Onions
"I started with the beet tattoo on my shoulder because beets are strong and rooted. They can grow in the middle of winter. I got it 15 years ago to remind me to stay grounded and not give up. I got it done in Boston, and it took about three weeks to finish. It is pretty big. It was my first tattoo and it killed, but I really wanted it as a reminder to work hard. The funny thing is, it was my first, but I went on to get tattoos of garlic and onions—also very strong vegetables that can withstand the harshest seasons. I tell people that I am making a salad on my arms—next will be a head of lettuce. Just kidding!” – Jason Santos, Chef & Owner of Abby Lane in Boston, MA
8. The Word 'Eat'
“I got this tattoo after running a Cape Cod seasonal restaurant for a year called EAT at Adrian's. People, eating is my profession. It is what I do to make others happy, plus eating makes me really happy. It is on my wrist so that I always see it. I got it about 10 years ago in Boston. It was my first tattoo and many other food-related tattoos have followed, but this one is the most visible." – Will Gilson, Chef & Owner of Puritan & Company in Cambridge, MA
9. The Words 'Cast Iron'
“I have always accredited my grandmother and my family for getting me into food. "Cast iron' is an ode to her and her food. Just like a cast iron pan, all her recipes are still tried and true. She always brought a huge family together over a giant meal. I learned from all those meals together with her and the family the importance of nourishment through food and drink. 'Cast iron' is my religion in the kitchen: well seasoned, always a workhorse, and can cook just about anything you need it to." – Anthony Scott Ashworth, Sous Chef at Liberty Food and Wine Exchange in Reno, NV
“It represents my dedication and love of the business and part of it is a memorial to my late father. Octopus is also my favorite food and ingredient.” – Jeff Haskell, Culinary Director of In Good Company Hospitality in New York City Photo credit: Good Company
11. The Words 'Chef Life'
“Tattoos in general are a form of self expression, and so is cooking. You have to wear them proud! The arm is the perfect spot—I’ve got my arms out all day while I’m cooking, so nothing’s hidden. I like to express myself through my tattoos and through my food. ‘Chef Life’ is part of the series of tattoos on my arm, and they’re all interconnected. When I got ‘Chef Life,’ I also got a primal cuts diagram: pig, veal, and lamb. My right arm is an expression of my cooking, and my left arm is of my heritage—and to me, those things go together, always. I've never done anything else, I’ve never been passionate about anything else. I’ve been cooking since I was 14. I wear this art every day and look at it every day, and it reminds me that ‘Chef Life’ is not just something we throw around—it’s an actual, tangible way of life. In the kitchen, we call people that don't cook ‘civilians,’ because we truly live by a different code.” – Dimitri Moshovitis, Executive Chef and Co-Founder of CAVA in Washington, D.C.