Twenty years ago, people with tattoos were in the minority. Looked down upon for their seemingly counter-culture collections, ink aficionados everywhere were treated like gang members, criminals or weirdos. These days, however, you'd be hard-pressed to meet someone who doesn't have at least a little something tattooed; we are now your overlords! Seriously, as society evolves and body art becomes more and more commonplace, so too does the understanding for the medium as well as the kinds of work people choose to get. Case in point: Chefs. This is a profession that seems to draw either those who are already tattooed or those who aspire to be, and though their tastes in tattoos are as varied as the food they prepare, a fair number of them favor the concept of food-themed tatts to showcase their love of cuisine.
"It's definitely a specialty tattoo, and it's usually people who are in the food industry who have ties to a specific type of food," says Mark Vigil, owner of Four Star Tattoo. "Let's say someone's specialty is French cuisine; if they're passionate about their work and also collect tattoos, there's a good chance they'll get something from that world tattooed."
Vigil says that he doesn't do food-related tattoos very often, but the 22-year veteran notes that when he does, it's usually for someone working within the food industry. In fact, he estimates that 80 percent of the food tattoos he's done have been on culinary professionals.
"There's something about the arrangement and composition of vegetables and fruits or even animals—cooked or not—that is very striking," he says. "Before you cook a lobster, it can have blues and yellows that look great as a tattoo—it looks good in red, too—but I think it's the contrast of colors like that, or the colors of carrots for example, that look so great."
It's true—there's a great big world of food tattoo possibilities, and since this issue coincides with our annual Restaurant Guide, we went out and found some of Santa Fe's favorite local chefs and checked out their food-themed artwork. This is a food-loving town, after all.
Current Job: Owner and chef, Dr. Field Goods Kitchen
Food Tattoos: Pinup chef girl, octopus, mahi-mahi (by Jason Camiford and his apprentice, Washington DC)
We can call Dr. Field Goods' rise to one of Santa Fe's favorite places meteoric, because in just a little over a year and a half, chef Josh Gerwin's Cerrillos Road eatery has skyrocketed to the top of food lovers' lists. It could be Gerwin's insistence that just about everything on the menu be sourced locally, it could be the more-local-than-touristy atmosphere or it could just be that the place makes a damn good sausage.
"I wanted to open a local restaurant that people would have all year-round, and I didn't want to open downtown and rely on tourism," he says with a grin. "I know that some restaurants are hitting the slower time of the year, but I just had one of my busiest weeks."
A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, Gerwin plans on opening a butcher shop/bakery just a few doors down from his current location where he envisions people will "pick up a croissant and coffee in the morning and then come back in the afternoon for a sandwich." Given that the place already butchers its own meat and makes a pretty great breakfast, this only makes sense.
Tattoo-wise, Gerwin opted for work a bit more on the subtle side when it comes to food tattoos. A pinup girl with a bowl and spoon adorns his leg as a reminder of his educational accomplishments, while a mahi-mahi and octopus stand out as great examples of the medium regardless of their ties to his chef-dom. Gerwin has a few other tattoos planned for the future including a portrait of his daughter, but for now he's focusing on keeping busy at Field Goods.
"It's all I've ever really done, and being a chef is something I always wanted to do," he says. "I always knew I made good food, but I didn't think it would be as crazy as it is." Oh, and one last word of advice: Try the green chile stew. Seriously.
Current Job(s): Head server, Osteria D'Assisi; pastry chef, Georgia
Food Tattoos: Sleeve featuring macarons, mints, a cupcake, stars and dots, apples, licorice (All by Crow B Rising, Talis Fortuna)
Far and away the youngest chef on the list, Leilani is a recent graduate of the Santa Fe Culinary Academy who's already climbing the ladder in local spots like Osteria and Georgia. But Leilani didn't just sashay into the business by any means.
"I've worked in restaurants since I was 12, and I started at Café Paris washing dishes," she says. "But it wasn't until about two years ago that I decided I wanted to be a chef. Just a couple weeks later, the Culinary Academy put out their first ad and since then, it seems like everything with my career has fallen into place like the universe has my back."
Though she specializes in pastries at the moment, Leilani doesn't want her current job to pigeonhole her or her ability. "My specialty is expertise, and I want to be amazing and solid in every aspect of being a chef," she says. "I enjoy the challenge of making pastries and it takes a lot of focus, but I don't want to attach myself to just one thing."
Leilani tends to focus on the three tenets of simplicity, beauty and creativity.
"Like the caprese," she says. "It's a really old-school flavor profile, but you can portray it in so many different lights and present it in beautiful ways."
For her ink, Leilani went with a sweet motif that prominently features macarons of varying colors, licorice in honor of her grandmother, colorful cupcakes and the iconic red-and-white-swirled mints found in so many restaurants. It would seem the phrase "sweets for the sweet" is extra applicable here, as Leilani states her No. 1 goal in working with food is to give back to her community. She's already organized several fundraisers for nonprofits like Food 4 Kids.
"We're a small community, and I truly believe we can end hunger in Santa Fe," she says. "I don't know if it's compassion so much as it's just decency."
Make it a point to catch her now while you can, Santa Fe, because come January she'll be heading to Los Angeles to continue her foray into pastries in a soon-to-be-opened restaurant called Estrella.
Current Job: Owner/Chef, 315 Restaurant & Wine Bar
Food Tattoos: Mirepoix, lobster (by Mark Vigil, Four Star Tattoo)
Hailing from Westchester County, NY, Moskow has lived in Santa Fe since 1995. "I had done a fair amount of time cooking in cities—like 10 years—and I was ready for the country and mountains," Moskow says. "I've been in the business something like 30 years, though."
Moskow came up in cooking through his education at the Culinary Institute of America in New York state, a year working with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse (not to mention Il Piatto's Matt Yohalem) in New Orleans and, eventually, the ownership of 315 in 1999. Still, he stays excited about the profession.
"There are always opportunities to work with new foods and techniques," he says. "I'm constantly sourcing food because I need to work with new ingredients…finding something consistent is always exciting, too, of course."
Moskow identifies fish as his favorite food to prepare, but points out that 315 has been serving up delicious pork as of late, as well as working on the mission to source fresh king crab from Alaska; the colder months mean great shellfish according to Moskow, and he is looking forward to truffle season.
Tattoo-wise, he sports a gigantic lobster that runs from his waist down his left thigh and an absolutely stunning pot of mirepoix (a sort of vegetable mélange) on his calf. "Mirepoix is the foundation for all French stocks and sauces, and from these things you can cook so many other things," he says. "It's the really basic but fundamental component of French food."
Though Moskow has no future tattoo plans, we'll just have to forgive him because even in a crowd of chefs with beautiful tattoos, he just might have the best of the bunch.
Current Job(s): Private caterer; bartender, The Matador
Food Tattoos: Winged yam with a banner reading, "I Yam What I Yam," steak, cans of spinach (Scott Buffington, Four Star Tattoo; Max Ireland, Talis Fortuna)
Ask anyone who's met the man, and they'll tell you that Prokopiak is behind some of the best damn barbecued meat they've ever tasted. A mainstay in the industry for the past 15 years, he's worked his way up from dishwasher simply because he has always loved food and cooking.
"When I was about 6, I told my grandma that when I grew up I'd either be a leprechaun or a chef…I became a chef," he says.
Prokopiak is not currently cooking for anyplace in particular, but he has mentioned the possibility of working the line in local hotspots like Fire & Hops or The Compound. Additionally, his previous stint working with The Real Butcher Shop added an entirely new dimension to his already impressive ability. Oh, and did we mention he's absolutely covered in tattoos?
"Once I had been about eight or nine years in the industry, I realized that [food] was going to be my whole life, so I just said, 'Fuck it,' and got the food tattoos," he shares.
From the gigantic winged yam exploding with rich, colorful shading emblazoned across his chest to the steak and spinach tattoos on his arm and short ribs on his hand, it's clear that this is a man who has given his all to the art of cooking. For the future, Prokopiak envisions a hamburger tattooed on his hand, which he refers to as his "handburger." He also hopes to open a restaurant of his own.
“I’m thinking a gastro/mixology kind of place,” he says. “Originally, I thought I might try it in Portland, but it’s pretty played out up there, and I think it would be more appreciated here.”
For now, Prokopiak is happily tending bar at The Matador and is available for private cooking. The one catch is that you've just gotta get out and find him yourself.
"Let people come find me," he says. "I do Texas-style spit roasts or Tongan-style underground pits." God, that sounds amazing.
Current Job: Chef and partner, Fire & Hops
Food Tattoos: Monkey eating ramen, mirepoix (by Hawaiian artist Arthur Griffin-Noyes)
Coleman has lived in Santa Fe off and on for most of his life, but spent his formative years living in Hawaii as well as time in the Bay Area. And all the while he was working in various capacities in restaurants.
"I've been in the business for about 15 years," Coleman says. "I was always interested in food when I was a younger, and a meal management class in high school—which is what I think they renamed home ec to make it sound more appealing—sparked something in me."
That decade and a half has culminated in the opening of Fire & Hops, a gastropub space on Guadalupe Street that has, in a mere two months or so, become so popular with the citizens of Santa Fe that it's almost difficult to believe.
"It's been pretty great," he says. "I think everyone loves a new spot, but after the first month the buzz can kind of die down unless you're doing something right, and they keep coming, and they've kept coming."
Coleman estimates the restaurant draws somewhere in the neighborhood of 95 percent local business, which falls in line with his and partner Josh Johns' plans.
"We were definitely aiming for locals, but we also wanted to create this perfect marriage between high-end and laid-back," he says. "We have some people who come in and spend 20 bucks on a burger and some beers, and we have some people come in and spend 200 bucks on five courses."
Coleman can boast an almost animated mirepoix tattoo on his leg that shows the requisite carrots, onions, et al flying out from a pot as well as a half-joke traditional take on a monkey munching from a bowl of ramen. Hawaiian artist Arthur Griffin-Noyes did both tattoos.
"The monkey piece is a little more fun and represents this amazing trip I took back to Hawaii…there's this incredible noodle stand on Kauai that serves amazing ramen, and I probably ate there four or five times in a week," he says. Like Moskow, he agrees that the "humble beginnings" mix is a jumping off point for greater things. "The mirepoix is because it's the foundation and the start of everything," he says, "and it was important to me to have a good representation of what I've been doing for more than half my life."
Current Job: Front of house, Il Piatto
Food Tattoos: Sleeve featuring corn, saltshakers, apple, carrots, onion and more (by Jamie Sheen, formerly of Awaré)
Y'all might know Maloney from his stint cooking at the sadly now-closed Aztec Café. Toward the end of the Aztec's existence, Il Piatto's head chef Matt Yohalem came on to consult and help them open a kitchen and, following the closure, hired Maloney. These days, Maloney isn't cooking so much as doing everything else one can think of when it comes to restaurant floor work, and he's come a long way from humble beginnings.
"Like a lot of people, I started out flipping burgers as a teenager, and by the time I realized I had a passion for cooking, I got pretty lucky," he says. "I was dating a girl in San Francisco whose best friend worked in restaurants that were a big deal back in the day, and she talked me out of culinary school and convinced me to read the books and work hard."
Maloney then spent several years working day shifts as a line cook and night shifts staging (more or less the restaurant term for an unpaid internship) wherever possible. "I'd work for free and all night long because these weren't the kinds of restaurants you just walked into," he says.
A few years of working this way, as well as plating pastries, ultimately led to the move to Santa Fe and the rest is, how they say, history. Maloney's ultimate goal is to open a place of his own, but despite a background in fine dining, he envisions a far simpler menu.
"I'm talking good, affordable good," he says. "For me, making eggs for somebody is more meaningful, or just food that people like because that's exactly why I cook—to please people."
Maloney's sleeve dates back to his first days in Santa Fe and is a bricolage of American and Japanese tattoo styles that come together in a seamless display of food love. From the corn cob and saltshakers to the carrots that, according to Maloney, came directly from an illustration in a Julia Child book, it's the kind of tattoo one might automatically assume only a chef would have.
"I wanted this tsunami wave of food, and that's exactly what I got," Maloney tells SFR. "The passion for tattoos came at around the same time as my passion for food, and at least I know I'll never regret it…who's gonna be mad at themselves for getting a carrot tattoo?"