**NOTE: This is the last installment of my Ink Spotted series. I’ve had a great time writing and shooting it in the last year, but I feel like I’ve taken it as far as I can. My thanks go out to Amy McKeever and Eater for agreeing to let a former rock journalist tell the stories of tatted up creative types — it made me feel like I was working for Rolling Stone online all over again.**
Virtue Feed & Grain’s pastry chef Bekka Baltzell didn’t get any tattoos as a young teenager, because she was afraid her mother would kick her out of the house. When she turned 18 though, she rebelled against her mom — sort of. She got inked with a cluster of stars, but they’re not usually visible. “They’re hidden below the belt and covered by a bathing suit,” is all she’ll say about their location.
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Elisir pastry chef Liz Barbato has a competition going with her two younger brothers. “Whenever one of us gets a tattoo, the other two have to go out within the same month and get more ink,” she says. This friendly rivalry has resulted in a thorn-wrapped cross that consumes her upper back and a trio of black calla lilies strung across her chest.
Barbato got her first tattoo of a black rose when she was 16, simply because “my mother always told me that I would never make it to 16. I got this to prove that I’d made it.” Mom had good reason to be worried. “I was always in trouble, I had many, many broken bones from playing sports, and I was in a few really bad car accidents,” says Barbato. Her closest brush with death happened when she was only 12 years old. A friend was teaching her how to drive a stick shift. It was raining and Barbato lost control of the car, flipping it over. Stuck under the seatbelt, it took two people to break through the window and cut her out. After extricating her and pulling her to safety, the vehicle exploded.
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Potenza chef de cuisine Stephen Hartzell got his first tattoo — a tribal band — when he was a “rebellious” 22-year-old with piercings and hair that almost reached his waist. His ears still sport plugs, but his dark hair is trimmed short. He has a lot more tattoos now. Both arms are sleeved up, his right ribcage is consumed with an Egyptian-styled piece that took 32 hours to complete, and he has work done on one leg.
There’s one piece that he doesn’t have. “For a little while, I had a suckling pig snout in my freezer that I was going to use as an ink stamp,” he says. “It was going to be like a little pig kiss on the top of my foot like it just bumped into me.” He ultimately let a friend use the idea and the severed extremity instead.
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“I have a lot of band tattoos,” admits Kris Fulton, the café manager at Baltimore’s Lamill Coffee inside the Four Seasons Hotel. There are pieces that reference the Smiths, Blink-182, Jawbreaker, and Daniel Johnston.
One piece of a giant lightning bolt shattering the Capitol Building is taken from DC hardcore band Bad Brains’ 1982 debut. Fulton grew up in between the District and Baltimore and fell for music at the same time that the group was gaining popularity. “They’re all African-American, which was surprising for a band like that at that time,” he says. “They went into an environment that they weren’t used to or familiar with, then made it their own thing and shaped it.”
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Pizzeria Orso executive chef Will Artley wasn’t always on the right track. As a teen, he was kicked out of high school in upstate New York, which was a huge blow to his parents. “That was the first time I let them down,” admits Artley. “I told them, ‘I promise you that I’m going to do something with my life. I’m just taking a different path.’”
Starting at age 15, he started gravitating toward kitchen work, picking up any kind of gig he could score. There was one stint at Misty Meadows Pig Farm, which also had a restaurant. “So you’d get to see the pigs and then eat them,” he explains.
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Urbana’s executive sous chef Charles Dwan comes from tough stock. “My mom died when I was 10,” he says, before quickly clarifying, “but she’s still with us. Still kicking ass and taking names.” His mother actually flatlined three times after suffering a brain aneurysm, but refused to succumb. That might seem like beating impossible odds to most, but Dwan simply says, “You don’t mess with Mom.” Not even if you’re the Grim Reaper apparently. The giant tortoise shell cross tattoo that covers his entire back is the chef’s tribute to her resilience.
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“I didn’t want simply a badass tattoo,” says Sou’Wester’s chef de cuisine Eddie Moran. “I wanted one that was very meaningful to me.” Raised a Catholic, he was looking to get a piece that reflected both his upbringing and his passion for cooking. Researching through the annals of church history, he stumbled across Saint Lawrence of Rome. This patron saint of chefs was burned to death on a gridiron. “Here’s someone who feeds people out of the kindness of his heart,” says Moran. “Then he’s grilled alive like he’s a piece of food.”
“The sleeve on my right arm is actually a shitload of cover-ups,” Rogue 24′s cheftender Bryan Tetorakis says as he rolls up his sleeve to show off his tattoos. Underneath a more recent piece of the grim reaper with a pair of dead angels, you can just make out the logo for the emo band Thursday and a tombstone.
It’s surprising that he has so much work. “I’m terrified of needles,” he admits. “Back in the day, my mom used to joke, ‘I don’t have to worry about two things with you: becoming a junkie or being heavily tattooed.’ She was half right.”
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