Photos by Collin Richie
Six months into his first job as a young chef at J. Alexander’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge, Ryan André had the word “chef” tattooed across his forearm.
André spent the next several years advancing in the local restaurant world, becoming the head chef at Le Creole and winning awards for his handiwork. With success came more tattoos—each one reflective of his story, he says. Now he’s up to about 25. The chef on his forearm has since been covered up by other tattoos, but he shifted the word to his fingers.
City Pork Brasserie and Bar’s chef Ryan André
“I wear them proudly,” he says. “I’ve worked at some restaurants where they wanted me to cover them up, but it’s my story. There was a reason why I got them.”
Indeed, tattoos are a growing trend among chefs, many of whom have broken with the fastidious image historically required by the industry. The professional culinary world, especially that of fine dining, has traditionally commanded a clean-cut look. A chef with tattoos kept them under wraps.
But now, say André and other food professionals, chefs are embracing a look they believe echoes the high-octane nature of their work. Nationally and locally, more chefs seem to be comfortable displaying their ink.
“Younger in my career, they weren’t accepted as well,” says chef Chris Wadsworth, founder of Triumph Kitchen and the forthcoming Mid City restaurant Goûter. “You’d have to wear a chef’s coat, especially in front of guests. But now I feel like guests are mostly accepting of it. And you get to a point in your career where you feel more comfortable being who you are.”
Triumph Kitchen founder and chef Chris Wadsworth
Wadsworth has lost count of the number of tattoos he has. Major events and points of discovery have prompted him to get new tattoos, and each one he has added is blended into the existing terrain. A chef’s knife and a whole pig (with butcher’s guidelines) are two of his food-related tattoos. Others symbolize his children, significant life moments and his love for cars.
Personal chef Aimee Tortorich says the tattoo culture in the food industry is increasing, just as it is in other subsets of society, including the arts, design, the military and professional sports. Tortorich served in the military before returning to Baton Rouge and enrolling at the Louisiana Culinary Institute to pursue a career as a chef.
“We’re using food as a creative outlet, and with that comes creativity in other forms, like tattoos,” says Tortorich, who wears Eastern religion tattoos. “It’s a self-expression thing, and for me, it’s a reminder of who I am.”
Personal chef Aimee Tortorich
Nino’s restaurant owner and executive chef Elton Hyndman wears his professional geographic journey on his arms, with tattoos of the states where he has cooked on one arm, and countries around the world on the other.
“A person has to be a little bit rebellious to do this for a living,” he says. “Being on the line on a busy night is a huge adrenaline rush. You got to be up for it. Chefs like to wear their creativity on their sleeves.”
Maggie Heyn Richardson is an author and regular 225 contributor. Follow her on Twitter @mhrwriter.