I heard someone say once that “any tattoo taken too seriously is a bad tattoo.” I’m not sure how I feel about that. But I do believe that most kitchen tattoos are bad.
Are you even a chef if you don’t have at least a few tattoos? How would anyone know you’re a disciple of the culinary arts if you didn’t ink a knife or a whisk or a full Hobart mixer somewhere on your body? These elements are, apparently, crucial. Just as crucial as nabbing a professional headshot with your arms crossed, tats on full display.
When you see a bad food tattoo, there’s usually a lack of humility to go along with it. I’ve seen too many kids fresh out of culinary school get a whole sleeve of kitchen equipment on their arm when their job is to cut tiny potatoes. Think about all your favorite non-asshole chefs: J. Kenji López-Alt doesn’t have the phrase “Food God” inked on his chest, and despite his proclivity for the appliance, David Chang didn’t get a tattoo of a microwave (at least not yet).
Bottom line: When I say “bad chef tattoo,” you understand exactly what I mean. You know them when you see them. And since there’s a wide world of bad chef tats out there, let’s take a quick spin through some of the worst ones.
If you make your own rabbit sausage or run a butcher shop in a gentrified neighborhood then it’s standard practice to have a pig diagram tattooed on your body. The problem with the pork map, though, is that its vibe is too geographical to be awesome. There’s nothing cool about knowing where things are all the time. Nobody wants to fuck somebody who’s into globes. The pig diagram is what it is: a page in a textbook. It’s a drawing of... information. That’s like being a criminal defense lawyer and getting the constitution tattooed on your bicep. It’s just part of your job to know this stuff. You’re not any cooler because you paid to bring work home with you.
Damn, despite your white jacket, checkered pants, and generally sociopathic attitude, I had no idea you were a chef until I saw the word “CHEF” tattooed on your body! You don’t see train engineers with a “Choo Choo!” tattoo on their neck. It’s not iconic for landscapers to get a tiny lawnmower on their shoulder. And I hope the number of doctors with an “M.D.” tattoo on their wrist is very low.
CHEF LIFE is bad. CHEF OR DIE is worse. But there is a special place in Hell for people who get “YES, CHEF” permanently tattooed onto their skin. We need to put a ceremonial bullet into the whole “yes, chef” formality in restaurant kitchens anyway. I hope that no one requires their employees to say it these days, and that anyone who does is simply a time-traveler from the dining scene of 2005. Cooking shouldn’t mimic the military, and the people who get “YES, CHEF” tattoos should be handed a mop.
The famous French term meaning “everything in its place” is one of the few inarguable creeds of professional cooking. It’s practically biblical: Pierre-White 2:19: When the mirepoix is put in place, all is as it should be in the kitchen, and the cook need not worry.
However, while mise en place is gospel, friend and chef Kenya Bovey says that the mise en place tattoo is actually a curse, because “once you get it, you’re never set up on time.”
Mise en place essentially means to take care of your shit and make sure you’ve got everything ready to cook before you begin. I would say it’s the most sacred of cooking tenets. Still, it is decidedly not cool to have “always be prepared!” on your body. Might as well get “NEVR LATE” tattooed on your knuckles. Jesus Christ.
Knives are a tool that a chef encounters every day as part of their job. I don’t know how I would feel about, say, a plumber getting a plunger tattoo. Actually, I do know how I feel about that: it would fucking rule. But there are too many bad knife tattoos out there that have ruined the genre forever. Knives with flames and skulls and sometimes blood. Oh, and words. A knife blade with the word “finesse” on it is too much for me to take.
Besides, I’m not sure what the point of the kitchen knife tat is. You’re already holding a knife most of the time anyway. It’s right there; you can see it whenever you want. Sure, I guess knives are a little macho, but if you’re a good cook, what you do with a knife is actually quite gentle. As my friend and comedian Amy Silverberg put it: “Ooh, tough guy. You cut radishes, bitch.”
One of the creepiest things you could do is to pay homage to an idol by getting their face tattooed on your body. Some people are out here getting Gordon Ramsay’s craggy face inked on their stomach. It might be a true testament to your fandom, but nobody is going to respect you even if it’s Bourdain’s iconic mug adorning your forearm.
Nobody actually wears these fucking things. They’re like three feet tall; there is nothing practical about wearing a god damn chimney on your head. Moreover, they are a cartoon version of what a chef is. People in jail don’t actually wear striped costumes. They phased that shit out centuries ago, bro. Tall chef hats are symbolic of an era of white-dominated, “yes chef”-chirping douchebags. Wear your skullcap and take a knee.