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.
Two sleeves and three pieces across his chest later, Michael Berardino, who runs the kitchen at New York's Dylan Prime steakhouse, estimates he's spent between 70 and 80 hours under the needle. To him, tattoos go with the lifestyle: "It's that similar fringe element." He paired his tat with a recipe for malloreddus, a pasta dish with braised goat from the Sardegna region of Italy. "The malloreddus are a little lesser known than cavatelli, although still a great vehicle for the goat ragu. As far as the composition is concerned; I think that it is well balanced, rustic, and full of flavor. If goat is not available, lamb is an obvious sub and boar would also be a fun option with the flavor profile."
Ingredients For Brine
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- 1 cardamom pod, crushed
- 1 ½ sprigs rosemary
- ¾ cup salt
- 1⁄3 cup sugar
- 2 ½ gallons water, divided
Ingredients For Mirepoix
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 3 stalks celery
Ingredients For Goat
- 5 pounds goat shoulder and neck
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 cup tomato paste
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups red wine
- ½ lemon
- ½ orange
- 2 red jalapenos
- 1 tablespoon rosemary
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 quarts water, to cover
Ingredients For Malloreddus
- 2 ½ cups semolina flour
- 1 ½ cups 00 flour
- 1 cup hot water
- ½ teaspoon salt
1. For Brine: Bruise the coriander, cardamom, and rosemary and combine with the salt and sugar in 1 ½ gallons of water. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar and salt. Back out the brine with remaining gallon of cold water.
2. For Mirepoix: Chop all ingredients into a small dice and combine. Set aside.
3. For Goat: Add the goat to the Brine, making sure that the meat is completely covered. Brine for 1 to 2 days covered in refrigerator. Remove the goat from the brine. Preheat oven to 325°F. Roughly cut all vegetables and place in a deep hotel pan. Cook the tomato paste in 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until it develops a rusty color; then add the red wine. Leave the pan on medium heat and slowly reduce the wine by half, about 25 to 30 minutes; then transfer it to the hotel pan. Place the goat on the vegetables, add the citrus fruit, jalapenos, rosemary, and bay leaves to the pan, and then add 3 quarts of water to cover the vegetables. Cover and cook in oven for about 3 hours, or until tender. Remove from the oven and allow to rest uncovered at room temperature until cool; then cover and refrigerate overnight in the braising liquid.
4. The next morning, remove the goat from the cooking liquid. Pick all of the meat off of the bones. Strain the cooking liquid through a China cap and reserve. In a large rondeau over medium heat, warm . cup olive oil. Add the Mirepoix to the rondeau and sweat until soft. Add the goat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the braising liquid and lower the heat to maintain a light simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until tender.
5. For Malloreddus: Combine both flours, water, and salt in a bowl and mix by hand or with a mixer until a smooth, firm dough is formed. Cut the dough into a few pieces, wrap with plastic, and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Roll the dough into pencil-thick logs, cut those into 1" segments, and form Malloreddus with fingers or take the logs of dough and run them through a cavatelli maker.
6. To Complete: Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the Malloreddus to the boiling water and stir vigorously. Cook the Malloreddus until tender, approximately 6 minutes. Drain the pasta, combine with the braised goat, and allow to simmer in the sauce for 1 to 2 minutes. Portion the pasta onto plates, and top with grated Pecorino Romano and a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil.
Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Luke Holton