Chefs Explain Why Their Tattoos are Symbolic, Food-Related or Not | Dish | Indy Week

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Chefs Explain Why Their Tattoos are Symbolic, Food-Related or Not

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I got my first tattoo when I was twenty-one. This wasn't kosher in my family, whose older generations associated ink with being rejected from a Jewish cemetery and not getting a job. The catch was, I want to be cremated, and I didn't buy that the industry I aspired toward—food publishing—would care. After all, most of the tattoos I saw were in food magazines and cookbooks.

In many ways, kitchens signify a professional haven for tattoos, an industry where body modifications are common, not contemptible. They signify belonging just as much as checkered pants and rubber clogs, knife calluses and forearm burns.

I asked five people who feed the Triangle daily why they got their tattoos. Here are their stories, in their words.

Andrew Ullom - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Andrew Ullom

Andrew Ullom, executive pastry chef at Ashley Christensen restaurants

I have a butcher's diagram of a pig on the inside of my right bicep, which apparently is super fucking cliché. I got it when I was nineteen or twenty. Eventually, I started getting tattoos to cover up burns from baking. Two years ago, I had a really rad piece done by Shaun Bushnell at Blue Flame. It's the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash. It goes from my elbow to my wrist, all the way around, on my left arm. The three sisters are a really traditional way of growing corn, beans, and squash in a field. [My wife and I] do some farming in our front yard and hope to instill a little food knowledge in our son as he grows up. I like farming as much as I like cooking. I think if I won the lottery, I would just buy a farm. It works out pretty well that corn is nitrogen-hungry, beans replenish nitrogen for the next season, corn gives the beans something to grow up, squash provides ground cover for pests and keeps weeds away. It's a way to utilize as much of what the field can provide and also takes care of the soil. I like to think that our pastry team is very much codependent on each other, along that same vein. So it's literal and slightly metaphorical, if I try to come up with some bullshit about it.

Nick Weber, sous chef at The Durham

It's been years since I've been tattooed, mostly because I haven't been able to afford it. But I never thought about getting a food tattoo. It's one thing for Sean Brock to have his multi-thousand dollars of incredible artwork. But a butcher's blade on one hand, prime cuts of pork on another? That's a little cookie-cutter. I don't really identify with kitchen culture, and I've been cooking for about a decade. I love food—it's just not part of my identity in that way. It's really important and powerful to me. But it's also not something I need to display on myself. Music is a singular artistic thing I can appreciate. I got this when I was nineteen. It's a piece of artwork by a guy named John Baizley, who's the frontman for a band called Baroness, and I really dig his artwork. I felt like I needed a tattoo, and it looked cool. There are very few things that I felt like I needed to put on my body since then. And food definitely hasn't been one of them, even though it's pretty much been my life for the last decade. This one I got a couple years ago. My all-time favorite band is called Mogwai, from Scotland, and this is their gang symbol. It's definitely the one I'm most attached to. Which is a weird thing to say about something that's permanently on your body.

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