Since the beginning of chefdom, the cluttered, humid, and pungent confines of the world's best kitchens have been populated by a rogue's gallery of misfits and hedonists. And chefs have always been easy to spot thanks to their uniforms, guts, callouses, sugar burns, and – more recently – tattoos. Today, it's almost unheard of for an American cook to not have an ink tribute to their work and a crazy story or recipe to go with it. That proliferation of body art is what inspired photographer Daniel Luke Holton and writer Birk O'Halloran to create Eat Ink, a cookbook focusing on tattoos.
O'Halloran says the first tat that struck him was on Jill Barron of Chicago's Mana Food Bar, who pulled down her lower lip to reveal the word "PORK!" etched into the wet fold of skin. "It's funny because Mana's a vegetarian restaurant," O'Halloran says. "It was kind of like, 'Why would someone who owns a vegetarian restaurant get the word 'pork' tattooed on the inside of their lip of all places? So you just start to get obsessed with it." Fortunately for O'Halloran, it was an obsession he shared with Holton, who is his cousin.
"This book was really a chance to create a body of work with people I really connect with personally," says Holton, who started getting tattoos at 17 and dabbled in the chef lifestyle as a snowboarder in Colorado. "A lot of my friends growing up, they were working in kitchens, just paying for our ski days. We'd work in kitchens at night and go out and snowboard during the day. Getting back to that with my photography was something I jumped at."
It didn't hurt that he got to eat everything he photographed. "I ate very well for about two years." He also heard a lot of stories, like the one about the time Gabrielle Rucker, the owner of Portland's Le Pigeon, got an intentionally bad shark tattoo to commemorate his sous chef's near death in a cliff jumping accident and the simpler one about Derek Simcik of Chicago's Atwood Cafe getting the egg he dropped on his foot tattooed there permanently.
O'Halloran's favorite tattoo belongs to Tony Marciante, who runs Chef Tony's in Bethesda, Maryland. "He has a full back piece that says 'Chef Life,' s a play off of Tupac's 'Thug Life,'" he says. "I found a picture of that randomly on the Internet and I remember thinking: 'We have to find him.'"
Here are some most interesting chefs O'Halloran and Holton met on their journeys showing off their tats and favorite recipes.
Before he had an eponymous New York restaurant and a certain amount of fame from Iron Chef, Marc Forgione was a hopeless romantic. That's the sort of thing a lot of people claim "I have an infinity symbol on my ankle that I got with my college girlfriend. We are no longer together." Despite that nearsighted decision, he boasts that his body art is: "another expression of my muse, my creativity, my inspiration kind of thing. A lot of my tattoos have to do with things in my life that have to do with the way I cook and who I am. It's just kind of natural."
Veal Tenderloin with a Mustard Reduction
- 1 (454-gram; 1-pound) pork belly
- 2 garlic cloves
- 100 grams pork blood (ask your butcher)
- 20 grams kosher salt
- 20 grams Vadouvan Curry (from La Boite)
- 15 grams Chios (from La Boite)
- 20 grams ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh curly parsley
- 120 grams Activa, optional
- 2 (283-gram; 10-ounce) veal tenderloins
- Canola oil
- 43 grams (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
Mustard Reduction Ingredients
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- Veal scraps from Tenderloins
- ¾ cup chopped button mushrooms
- 3 shallots, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 4 cups dry red wine
- 1 cup ruby port
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 fresh or ½ dried bay leaf
- 4 cups veal stock
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Salt, to taste
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1. For Tenderloins: Using a meat grinder or a meat-grinding attachment to your stand mixer, grind the pork belly and garlic to a medium grind. (Alternatively, you can ask your butcher to grind your pork and combine it with finely minced garlic when you bring the meat home.)
2. In a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the ground pork and slowly add the blood to emulsify. Add the salt, curry, Chios, cinnamon, parsley, and Activa, if using, and mix for another 5 seconds or so.
3. Trim the tails and tops off the tenderloins so that they resemble one consistent, log-shaped loin (reserve scraps for the following Mustard Reduction recipe). Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Make a 7" × 3" rectangle out of the blood sausage meat on the plastic wrap. Place one tenderloin in the center and sprinkle enough Activa, if using, to cover the meat. Roll the meat into a tight cylinder and tie the ends tightly. Repeat with the other tenderloin.
4. Sous Vide Instructions: Fill an immersion circulator with water and preheat to 140°F. Place the tenderloins in 2 vacuum-seal bags, seal the bags, and poach in the immersion circulator for 2 hours. Transfer the tenderloins to a bowl filled with ice water (an ice bath) and allow the meat to cool, in the bag, for at least 10 minutes, or until ready to assemble the dish.
5. Sous Vide Alternative Instructions: Wrap the tenderloins in plastic wrap so that the cylinder resembles a sausage. Place the wrapped tenderloins into a resealable plastic bag and squeeze out as much air as possible. Fill a pot halfway up with water and, over medium heat, bring the water to 140°F. Decrease the heat to its lowest setting, place the resealable bag in the water, and carefully watch the thermometer, making sure the temperature of the water remains around 140°F. Have a bowl of ice cubes ready so that you can add them to the water when the temperature starts to go above 140°F. Cook for about 2 hours; then transfer the bag to a bowl filled with ice water (an ice bath) and allow the meat to cool, in the bag, for at least 10 minutes, or until ready to assemble the dish.
6. When ready to serve, in a large saute pan set over high heat, warm enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan until just before it starts to smoke. Remove the tenderloins from the sealed bags, pat dry, and add them to the pan seam-side down. Reduce the heat to medium and add the butter, garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Baste the tenderloins for 2 minutes and remove from the pan. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Reserve some of the pan drippings and discard the rest.
7. For Mustard Reduction: In a 3-quart saucepot set over medium heat, warm canola oil. Add the veal scraps and cook until nicely browned, 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic and cook until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the peppercorns and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the sugar and cook 1 more minute. Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Cook until the pan is dry; then add the wine, port, thyme, and bay leaf. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 20 minutes. Add both the veal and chicken stocks and cook until the liquid has reduced to about 2 cups and is the consistency of syrup. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, return the reduction to the stovetop, and over medium heat, skim off any excess fat. Season to taste with salt and taste for balance—you may want to add a bit more vinegar depending on your preferences. Strain the sauce again and set aside. You will need 1 cup of sauce for this recipe (you will have 3 cups or so)—the rest can be frozen and used another time you make the dish or served with another meat dish.
8. When ready to serve, warm the reduction over medium heat and stir in the mustard until fully incorporated. Set aside. If freezing for later, add mustard just before serving.
Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Luke Holton