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 towardfood publishingwould 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, 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 foodit’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.
Carrie Bird, baker at Loaf
I’ve been baking on and off for the past ten years. I liked that you could have as many tattoos as you want and wear pajamas to work, and no one was going to look down on you because you didn’t have a college education. You can be as good as you want to be, based on your individual skill. I’ve been at Loaf since February 2016. When I moved here, I really wanted to work there. One day, I went to Dogstar to get these earrings. I was checking out any shop that had decent jewelry for gauges. Shea was busy piercing someone, and he’s the only person who deals with the jewelry. So I was hanging out there for a bit, looking at everyone’s portfolios, and Cohen Myers’s really stood out to me. I loved his line work. So I book an appointment. I had been joking about getting a canelé tattoo because canelés mean the world to me. It just struck me as the most singular, perfect pastry I have eaten to date, because it’s so complex and so simple at the same time. And looking at it, it’s pretty unassuming, but it covers all realms. Crunchy, chewy, creamy, boozy. So I went in saying, I need a canelé to look like a beehivebecause of the beeswax in the moldand gave him the option of five different flowers that honeybees really like. And I let him design it around that. I’ve always embraced pieces that are custom work. Which just makes it more special. You aren’t going to see it on someone else.
Kim Hammer, owner at Bittersweet and Raleigh Provisions
The strawberries are a cover-up of another tattoo that I got many, many years ago. The one underneath was very simplejust black lines of a mermaid, much smaller. I got the one on my other shoulderthe “Butter” tattoolike someone would have a traditional “Mother” tattoo, but mine says “Butter.’ It’s a heart with a wooden spoon where there would be a dagger. That tattoo is full color and a specific size, and I’m weirdly symmetrical about things. Every time I looked in the mirror, it looked unbalanced. I wanted to even it out and the strawberries came to me really quickly. I can explain the difference of eating local with strawberries more than any other produce and they’re so indicative of place. I have this food memory of my son, Max, who was three when I started selling at the Carrboro Farmers Market. I remember him sitting in the back of my station wagon and giving him a little pint of strawberries. My friend Errol owns Blue Flame, so I started to talk to him about the idea. He put all the stages of a strawberryblossoms and green and fulltogether as a way to cover up the mermaid. Although, there’s a tiny little piece that I kept as a tribute. In one of the berries, you can very clearly see a side angle of the mermaid’s breast. So she’s still there.
Phoebe Lawless, chef-owner at Scratch and The Lakewood
It was 1997 or 1998. I was working at Vertigo, which is now Poole’s Diner. Originally it was Poole’s Diner. Then, in the nineties, it was reimagined as a retro diner called Vertigo. I was a line cook and I ran brunch. I always wanted the salt and pepper aspect for a tattoo, but I hadn’t settled on a particular image. I had just started to do some baking part-time, and I felt that I wouldn’t get tired of the salt-and-pepper concept. It would always apply, whether I went sweet or savory. There was a woman I worked with named Michelle Smith. She was a bartender. Her partner at the time was Dale Flattum, and he did clip art. So I approached him about coming up with an illustration for salt and pepper. And I loved it. I got it done at a place that doesn’t exist anymore in Carrboro called Choice Peach. It was teenya little studio inside one of those brick millhouses. In the nineties, in this area, it was where you went to get a tattoo. I feel like I was making a statement about my commitment to food. If I’m going to analyze it now, I don’t know if that was to legitimize it, like a public way of saying I really am committed. I’m not one of these people who is going to float through kitchens. I knew that I was going to be in food forever.