Artists credited for above images from left to right: Grapes Tattoo by Yan Vilks, Cake Tattoo by Jesse Rix, and Sumptuous Burger Tattoo by Jamie Lee Parker
For a brief spell in my meandering college years, I dipped my spoon into the piping hot world of culinary school just to try my hand (and knife) at an uncultivated skill. I quickly learned I didn’t have the discipline nor the passion to carry on with a culinary career. I also quickly learned how much ink there is in the professional kitchen. Exhibit A: the first woman I met introduced herself as a baker, extended her hand, and showed me an arm featuring a tattooed rolling pin and meat cleaver overlapping like a skull and cross bones. My literary brain led me to the following parallel: food is life and I will die for it.
Rolling pin and meat cleaver lady was not a stand-alone in the industry. Outside of school, I befriended — or at least rubbed elbows with — several burger flippers, line cooks, and bartenders who sported so many tattoos, none of them were discernible until I stopped to have a closer look. These food industry friends criticized my lack of tattoos as well as my complete inability to properly dice a damn onion. Only a spare few of them sported tattoos of food or kitchen appliances, but the correlation between kitchen work and a lust for inked skin spoke (and still speaks) for itself. What intrigued me the most about this correlation, and continues to intrigue me, is the non-conformist roots and nature of tattoos existing in kitchens that demand total conformity and strict adherence to the rules. While it’s true none of the friends I mentioned above aspired to work for five-star restaurants, it’s also true that the baker with the rolling pin and the meat cleaver was dreaming big; she aspired to work in stainless steel professional kitchens, kneading tirelessly with tattoos permanently dusted in flour. To me, this says that as tattoos have boiled over the fringes of society and found their way onto the skins of celebrities and common folk alike, they are now staples to be expected on the skins of passionate, artistic people; I should mention chefs and cooks are some of the most passionate people I’ve met.
There are still many restaurants run by C-level executives who have a zero tolerance policy for tattoos and piercings, concerned with appearances, still associating body modifications with grunge and grime, mindful of the (admittedly real) liability concerns that arise with jewelry snagging clothing or kitchen appliances. Nonetheless, The Harris Poll, conducted in 2016, concluded that nearly half the Millennial generation and over a third of the Generation X populous boasts at least one tattoo. Considering the Millennial generation will soon be taking over the world, I foresee heavily inked kitchens in the future — but don’t fret, my dear elders! I’ve eaten several dishes prepared by my tatted up, foodie comrades, all of whom passed the Food Safety and Sanitation test necessary to be in a culinary program. Their dishes? Ink-free and mouth-watering.
Which leads me to what I really want to discuss: FOOD, and the tattoos it inspires.
From hot dogs and pizza to steaming bowls of ramen noodles to gourmet slices of ganache cake drizzled with chocolate sauce, it goes without saying food is exceptionally tattooable. Dovetailing with food tattoos are all the high polished kitchen appliances that can be rendered with photo-real shine on a cooking lover’s skin. Food tattoos can make the mouth water, adopt the style of traditional tattoos, profess one’s commitment to their culinary profession, grace an anime-lover’s skin with adorable anime-style eggs, or simply showcase a particular artist’s skill—skill that is most definitely (and deliciously) showcased in the amazing decadent cake tattoo by Jesse Rix (featured in the center of the delicious collage above). Demonstrating similar artistry in a completely different style, James Maxwell’s dancing hot dog tattoo is sure to take you back to the days of drive-in movie theaters and foil-wrapped junk food.
If so, don't stare too hard at the BLT-inspired tattoo I've posted above; but DO be sure to check out some of my favorite tattoos by Andy Cordero, whose smiling bowl of ramen tattoo is featured above. (If you can’t tell, I’m partial to Asian food … especially ramen).
Tattoo genres can be all-encompassing and delightfully varied — the same can be said about food! Think of all the options that run through your mind even when simply considering what takeout you'll be having for the evening. There’s just something about food in its vast versatility that networks us all internationally. From the kitchen to our mouths to our skin, we can all find something in common when it comes to food, whether it be a favorite dish, a favorite restaurant, or a favorite type of grub. That’s what makes food tattoos, in my humble opinion, some of the most commonly inked pieces. So what does this all mean, other than the fact that I’m hungry?
It means we love food. It means food is life. Literally.
And as food has filtered its way into the tattoo industry, the tattoo industry has given back by filtering its way into the culinary industry, combining savory with symbols.
And while food tattoos may not always be tasteful, they’ve always got exceptional flavor.