Chopping Tattoo Taboos

Chopping Tattoo Taboos

By Darcy Lenz

If you consider the stereotypical image of a chef, skin-etched illustrations are a sore thumb amidst stark white uniforms, towering toques, and perhaps a degree from Le Cordon Bleu. But take a gander at this season’s “Top Chef,” or even behind the kitchen doors at a favored upscale eatery. Looking around today’s haute cuisine scene, you’re bound to see some serious ink.

“From a social view, it’s not just criminals and totally awful people with visible tattoos anymore,” said Kim Deakins, a tattoo artist at Athens’ Pain and Wonder Tattoo Studio.

Deakins attributes the decline of social stigma against tattooing to wider media coverage through TV shows like “LA Ink,” in addition to a current widespread fascination with “hipster” culture. Although she recognizes that it can’t be considered in the realm of fine art, a rising appreciation for alternative art forms, such as street art and graffiti, has pulled tattoo artistry to a new level of appreciation by a versatile clientele pool.

Executive Chef Whitney Otawka of Farm 255 in Athens, GA
photo courtesy of Whitney Otawka

Like a tattooist, the chef is a unique breed of artist. However, a stark contrast exists in the lifespans of their final creations. Though each labors with equal diligence in their craft, a tattoo remains a work that the purchaser will (most likely) possess for eternity, while the culminating products of a chef’s artistry last only as long as a diner’s appetite. Accordingly, kitchen crews’ admiration for a personal expression outlet as permanent as a tattooing comes as no surprise. And unlike the other scars a chef is likely to acquire, from close encounters with flame and blades, a tattoo is a mark they willfully opt to inflict.

For Whitney Otawka, executive chef at Farm 255 in Athens, Ga, her love affair with ink is rooted in one of her first jobs,manning the counter at a tattoo parlor. This position, along with her past romantic involvement with a tattoo artist, pulled Otawka into the world of tattoo artistry at a young age.

“When I was younger, [tattooing] was a push for individuality. I really just didn’t want to blend into everybody else and be like the “normal” one… but now, it’s just so much a part of me,” Otawka said.

Today, her limbs are amply adorned in the American traditional style she favors. A brief scan of her arms and legs reveal a fork, a bat in flight, a depiction of her dog, a cow head, flowers and the Spanish term “vida,” to name but a few.

“I like the bold straight color,” said Ottawka, “All the little things are decorative in a way.”

Televised Tats

Otawka’s certainly aren’t the only tattoos you’ll see while viewing popular culinary competitions such as “Top Chef.” Check out a few other prominent kitchen masters who bear their ink with pride, as noted by The Associated Press.

· Hugh Acheson
o Chef/partner in Athens’ Five & Ten and The National, as well as Empire State South of Atlanta, Acheson is a familiar name around Northeast Georgia’s food scene. Apart from his sophisticated southern cooking style, Otawka’s former culinary mentor is often recognized for the radish emblazoned upon his left forearm. In addition to this signature tattoo, Acheson has bodily inscriptions of a Mayan god, and the names of his wife and two daughters.

· Stephanie Izard
o After becoming the first female to win “Top Chef,” this Chicago-based chef opened her current restaurant, Girl and the Goat in 2010. Izard’s personal tattoo zoo includes a fish, a gecko, a dolphin, a pea tendril and a basil plant surrounded by flying pigs.

· Bryan Voltaggio
o A sixth season finalist on “Top Chef,” Voltaggio now focuses primarily on his Maryland restaurant, Volt. Voltaggio’s body art gallery consists of a nautical star, a lightning bolt, and the names of his children, along with their zodiac signs.

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