Local chefs' tattoos bring ink to the kitchen sink
Chefs toil before searing flames, brave the splatter of hot grease, wield knives so sharp they could slice off limbs.
You didn’t think they’d be scared of a puny tattoo needle, did you?
Tattoos in the kitchen are as ubiquitous as finishing salt. And just as a chef’s dish can tell a story, a chef’s tattoos detail life events. Here are a half-dozen local chefs and their tattoo stories.
His dish: Maine Lobster and Spring Salad
A composition of plump Maine lobster with heirloom beans, heirloom tomatoes, raw, thinly sliced zucchini, radish and fennel, all seasoned with olive oil, sea salt and lime, and served with a honey-lime yogurt sauce and a ginger chile oil.
Carnes: “My first tattoo was a Japanese kanji character that I got when I was 16. Totally cliché first tattoo. I was 16 and my mom had to sign. She said, ‘If you get straight A’s for one semester, you can get a tattoo.’ OK, I’ll take that challenge. I got straight A’s and I got a tattoo at this shoddy little biker tatt spot north of Key West. It was on my leg and I thought it was the coolest.
“The tattoo that probably means the most is a tattoo that I got with my dad, these matching tattoos on our calves that say, ‘Stay strong.’ It’s a sacred heart with wings around it… When I was growing up as a kid with divorced parents in extreme opposites of the country, I didn’t have the luxury of having both parents to console me. My dad always told me, ‘Hey, man, you have to stay strong.
His dish: Steamed Indian River Clams with Hot Sauce and Butter
"Growing up we ate a ton of shrimp, a ton of Indian River clams. On the weekend, watching football, we’d grab a bushel of clams, throw them in a big steamer pot, throw them on the grill, with lots of hot sauce and butter.”
Lipman: “In the chef life, a good majority of us have a little bit of rebel. It can be your music, your food, your tattoos, what you do for fun. It’s instilled in your blood."
He got his first tattoo at age 21, along with his good friend and fellow chef Drew Shimkus. “At the time, we were having a great time cooking, learning, partying a lot. We were 21 years old in the restaurant industry, and we both started getting tattoos together.”
Through the years, “we’ve slowly been adding more color and more pieces,” he says. “Twice a year, I go and get a little more done.”
His dish: The Jersey Sandwich at Howley’s, West Palm Beach (roast beef, roasted turkey breast, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye bread)
Holman had a hankering for this sandwich after getting his tattoo, so he went down to Howley’s to gobble one up.
Holman: He got his first tattoo at age 18, a spur-of-the-moment decision made while out with a group of friends from culinary school. But the tattoo he lives by is one that symbolizes something he strives to achieve: “fluidity in the kitchen and in life itself.”
He got that tattoo at age 22, in 2005. “My life is like that… Even (during) the ups and downs.”
His dish: Habanero Salmon
This kicky salmon is maple glazed and popping with flavor. Feingold serves it with yellow rice at Dada.
His 2002 tattoo declares, “Stand for nothing, fall for anything.”
Feingold: “I’ve always been the kind of person that proves people wrong. I purposefully go out of the way to make sure that no matter what people think about me, I’m completely more than that.
“I wasn’t the greatest straight-A student in high school, but when I went to culinary school I said, ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ And when I did it, I fell in love. I was taught classically French and I like to do that, but I also like to do my own thing and see how far I can push it, see if I can get away with it.”
So don’t even dare ask for sauce on the side at Dada – he’ll say no. “A lot of that has to do with standing up for my food and really believing in what I’m doing. It’s not that it’s right or wrong. I just know in my heart that this is the right way it should be served. If they can just listen to me and let me take them on that ride, they’ll see what I’m talking about.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve. I feel deeply connected to the stuff that we do and it will hurt my soul if someone doesn’t enjoy it.”
His dish: Crispy Quail with Squash Blossoms, Collard Greens, Arugula and Fresh Beans
In creating this dish, Shimkus takes inspiration from his Florida roots and overall love of Southern foods, particularly vegetables.
"I consider it one dish with different elements from different people,” says Shimkus, who incorporated fresh-picked beans brought to him by a friend from North Carolina.
Shimkus: His first tattoo, collected at age 18, was an image of the sun. But he says all his tattoos are connected.
“I consider them all one. Basically it’s me.”
One tattoo denotes a milestone in his life: “when I quit drinking.” He has also taken inspiration from his family, his orchids, “everything I’m into.”
“Being a chef you can get away with tattoos showing. It’s not a normal job. You have different hours.. You live a different life. You can get away with a tattoo on your face, if you want too. Traditionally, you’re in the back of the house. Your food’s seen, but you’re not. It’s a creative thing, and most chefs are creative.”
His dish: Beef Carpaccio
Early in Ortiz’s career, this was the dish he had to prepare every day, “with cracked sea salt, black pepper, fried capers, Spanish olive oil, and arugula and tomato salad over the top.”
Ortiz: By the time Ortiz got his first tattoo, at age 18, he had already been cooking for three years.
But fresh into the restaurant business, he learned a truth about the often mechanical life in the professional kitchen.
“I remember thinking, ‘We are kind of like robots. We come in, we prep the same dishes, we serve the same dishes.’ At some points of my day, I’m on auto-pilot. I’m not really thinking about anything else.”
The tattoo that sleeves his right arm evokes this feeling. “The style is called biomechanical. It was inspired by the artist H.R. Giger, and his drawings are very dark… and the depth of the art is intriguing to me.”
The tattoo, he says, is a reminder to stay fresh despite the robotic repetition.