Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles is a haven for glossy celebrities. It’s the kind of place where the freshly botoxed and blow-dried go to see and be seen. But deep in the kitchen, Executive Chef Carolynn Spence rocks an edgier look, sporting some intense kitchen ink – from an artichoke to a kikuichi knife to half-inch portion marks on her hand.
She’s not alone. Sectioned cows and pigs, forks and knives, eggs and bacon, kitchen equipment, pastries, pomegranates, leeks – whatever you can think of in and around food – is branded on some chef or butcher or front of house staff in cities around the world.
“I had my hands done by my friend Kim Durham, who is also a talented butcher and sailor. I took photographs of the knives I learned on during my apprenticeship and had her draw directly from them,” recalls butcher Erika Nakamura of Lindy & Grundy fame about her own tattoo styling. “[My] meat /lard tattoo was just a total must!”
Chefs are rock stars. Butchers are punks. And tattoos are their badge of honor. It’s a form of extremism, a symbol of living on the fringe of society. Or so they say. But we’re not convinced. Inked chefs, butchers, sommeliers, food stylists and writers share something much more powerful: they are part of a new wave of cooking, a new culture and lifestyle around food. Kitchen ink is symbolic of a fresh breed of young players in the food industry who keep the music loud, the menu unconventional, and, yes, tattoos peaking out from under their whites. It’s about connecting with an emerging movement of wildly creative food forces from Melbourne to Los Angeles to London.
This new generation is carving out a lifestyle around food where gastronomy, art, design, fashion, and music are all stirred together in the same pot. A pop-up dinner on the rags to riches life of Biggie Smalls in Sydney; a Brooklyn gallery event where food is the artistic medium; a graffiti-covered barbecue loft in Uruguay; Shepard Fairey-painted walls in a Miami eatery. The list of food and art and music mash-ups goes on and on. Why? Because it’s not just about wearing whites and the old-school military order. It is about creating something new and daring and pushing the boundaries of how we cook, talk, write, and think about food.
In the heart of graffiti-covered Buenos Aires, I met with Chef Adrian Francolini of Il Ballo del Mattone – a collection of Italian restaurants that dot hip neighborhoods around the city, run by local artists and saturated in street art. As Chef Francolini put it, the connection is simple: just as an artist expresses creativity on the walls or a canvas, a chef does the same on a plate – and by extension, on his or her arm, or back, or ankle. Gone are the days of haute cuisine – at least temporarily – as the inspired, off-the-wall kids in the kitchen (and manning the trucks) are crowned as the latest in food royalty.
If you’re tempted to get in on the action you too can ink your latest meal in gold, silver, and hot pink. You can down tattooed energy drinks and show off vodka bottles decked out with skulls, vixen-ish mermaids, and windblown ships fit for the sleeve of an old sea dog. And you can even get your own temporary food tattoo thanks to Brooklyn artist Julie Rothman who has designed food-inspired tats, like cheese graters and whisks, for the short-lived food obsessions.
What won’t be short-lived, we’re sure, is this new culture of cuisine that connects inspired foodies around the world and transforms gastronomy into a higher art form with sometimes avant-garde proportions. Whatever the portion, we’re ready – and happy – to dig in.
Wanna see more? Check out our video slideshow here.
Tell us! What are some of the coolest food tattoos you’ve seen?