August 19th, 2010
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Tacos. Tattoos. Top Chef. Just another normal day at Eatocracy headquarters. Cooking is notably one of the great tattooed occupations, and when we received word that chef Bryan Voltaggio was getting his fifth tattoo, we decided to go above and beyond the call of journalistic duty and go along for the ride. The editorial team that tattoos together stays together. (It will all make sense in a second.)

Might we note that Bryan Voltaggio is the executive chef and owner of VOLT restaurant in Frederick, Maryland - which has earned three-stars reviews from both The Washington Post and Washingtonian. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and proud protégé of culinary mastermind Charlie Palmer, Voltaggio also competed on season six of Bravo's "Top Chef," where he was runner-up.

Without further ado, food and drink: meet food and ink.

Five Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them: Bryan Voltaggio

1. Chinese Dragon
“When I was 16 years old, I had $50 in my pocket and decided to drop by a tattoo shop in Frederick, Maryland with my good friend Tibet Riley. There’s a very good chance that underage drinking and ink were involved somewhere in the midst of this memory, and naturally I didn’t end up exiting the shop empty-handed as I had purchased my very first tattoo - a black Chinese dragon located on my right ankle.

What had no meaning for at first, surprisingly ended up morphing into something somewhat meaningful to me. At some point, I discovered that Chinese symbols were considered to be lucky and that I was actually born in the year of the dragon - I can honestly say that luck was on my side in this case! Additionally, I recently busted my buddy Eli Kirshtein from 'Top Chef' for being credited with this tattoo in the 'Top Chef' cookbook that recently came out. Nice try Eli!”

2. Fish
“The summer of 2009 when I was in the middle of taping "Top Chef: Las Vegas," I became extremely fascinated with line sketch drawings of food. I was looking to begin work that would allow me to feature a cornucopia of food on my arm and finally went out in search of a tattoo artist that could help me on this mission for ink.

After a year or two of pondering the idea, and checking out options at both my local tattoo shop in Frederick, and Kat Von D’s tattoo shop High Voltage Tattoo, I finally ended up at the Tattoo Lounge - a tattoo shop in Santa Monica, California, with my brother Michael. I began probing the artist there to see if he could print a scene I discovered featuring arctic char in an open-air market in Spain. Unfortunately, at the time, the tattoo artist was having issues with the printer at the shop. As I watched my brother get his tattoo, feeling somewhat defeated, I suddenly heard the printer kick back into gear, then noticed the artist I had been consulting with sketching the tattoo furiously.

This was the moment that I realized what a true art form crafting a tattoo was and just how passionate they really were about their work. This experience reflects a lot on my personality – patience is key. Art has such a profound meaning whether with tattoos or with food. And to this day, Michael is still jealous that I was able to make this unique tattoo a part of my ink collection.”

3. Nautical Star
“I chose to get a black nautical star on the inside of my left forearm after seeing the very same ink on my brother Michael’s chest. This tattoo means a lot to Michael and I as it represents a guide to my home and to my family. The fact that Michael and I share this tattoo, I feel that it connects us and continues to remind us to work together now and in the years to come.”

4. TCB "Taking Care of Business"
"Another tattoo inspired by my adventures with my friends Tibet Riley, brother Michael and others - I got a tattoo of the letters 'TCB' which stand for 'Taking Care of Business' on the tricep of my left arm at Classic Electric Tattoo, my favorite local tattoo shop in Frederick.

As we all sat together getting the same tattoo late into the night about three months ago, I felt as if we were all in a band, and the fact that music was blaring in the shop during our session made this ink experience that much sweeter. I got my letters in red, black and yellow – the colors of Maryland, and a lightning bolt was streamed through the letters. This was Elvis’s bands logo, and I also remember it being featured on the wing of his plane and drum kits ... very cool."

5. Pig
"The idea of getting a tattoo to represent my first born Thacher, has been on my mind for quite some time now. Although I wanted to avoid getting the stereotypical pig 'chef' tattoo - even though I am a huge fan of the swine - this tattoo selection seemed right after realizing my son was born in the Year of the Pig.

After scouting various line sketches of the pig, I spoke with an artist who was able to craft a final sketch, including the unique lettering of Thacher's name, which he planned on placing right under the pig. I was thrilled to see the draft and decided to go for it. All of this occurred following a trip up to New York City to visit the Culinary Institute of America for the first time in 10 years. I detoured through Brooklyn to meet up with Eatocracy editors, Kat and Sarah, for the first annual 'Tacos and Tattoos' outing.

We met at Tacos Nuevo Mexico and devoured some of the best tacos I've had in a while. Chorizo, braised tongue, and roast pork. We were also joined by my sous chef Graeme Ritchie, and my tournant Justin Zawoysky, who both took part in the taco-noshing session but opted out of getting ink. Graeme, who has a sleeve in the works, seemed a bit anxious to get in the chair, but unfortunately time was not on our side. Justin, whom does not have any tattoos as of yet, expressed that as a result of our Brooklyn adventure, he is now inspired to make an appointment and go under the needle at some point in the near future.

Kat got one of the coolest tattoos I've seen in a while: a very sleek marrow spoon. And, what better placement then on the back calf? - if you know where osso bucco comes from. I dove back into the chair to get my fifth tattoo, one of the most meaningful pieces I am proud to show, a tribute to my son Thacher, my future sous chef."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

Sporting food-related ink? Share your edible art in the comments below.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Think • Top Chef


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soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. chuckly

    When i see anyone with a tattoo, all i see is someone crying for attention "look at me, look at me!!"

    August 27, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
    • chuckly

      actually, when I see a man with a tattoo, i hear 'look at me, look at me'
      when I see a girl with a tattoo, I hear 'look at me, I'm a slut'

      August 27, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  2. Smythe

    I live in the neighborhood they visited for their tacos and tattoos – Tacos Nuevo Mexico has the best Mexican food I've had since I lived in Texas – it's really cool to see it being acknowledged here on CNN (and visited by a cheftestant).

    August 24, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  3. Melusine43

    I love Classic Electric in Frederick. They've done six of my tattoos.

    August 24, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  4. heather

    I just wanted to say that I also got a tattoo from Classic ELectric in Frederick. I can't go one day without a comment about it. I think I've drummed up a lot of business for the shop! I love to read about the meanings behind people's tattoos. And I can't wait to eat at Volt.

    August 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  5. Ashley

    I also find it interesting that people categorize people with tattoos, that is so dumb, I mean think about it. For example, there are a lot of white trash okee racist hicks out there that listen to country music, so do I judge all people who dress "cowboy" and listen to country music as that NO, because that would be dumb, that is just an example, I like country music myself but my point is it is a very ignorant way to think.........................

    August 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  6. Harpy

    Yuck!

    August 23, 2010 at 4:27 am |
    • Jesse

      I know I feel the same about your screen name and post.

      August 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  7. Rolin D. Phatees

    Actually... I quite like the new tattoo! The pig is an intelligent, social animal and if it ties into your love for your kiddo, then more power to ya! I also like the placement – that's commitment... good job!

    August 22, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  8. pierce

    I am sorry, but when I see a person with a tattoo I automatially think of that person as a borderline loser. With multiple tattoos a regular loser. With lots of tattoos and riding a motorccle, pretty trashy and probably not a decent person. With all that and also a smoker, a person who really is a bottom feeder and best ignored by societyl

    August 22, 2010 at 1:37 am |
    • Matt

      Pierce, since we're jumping into the preconceived notions pool, let's do it with a resounding splash! When I see the name Pierce, I think of awful things like Pierce Brosnan's acting. My god it's atrocious. Then I think of Franklin Pierce, our 14th President and I think back on how he made Warren G. Harding look like Kennedy. I mean he was really bad. Therefore I can only conclude that all people named Pierce must really be terrible at their jobs. I'm certain you're probably among the worst french fry makers at your McDonalds. In all seriousness Pierce, your thoughts as ridiculous as they are might seem a bit more coherent in the form of a Venn diagram. Just some food for thought. Now back to work my friend, there are a multitude of sub-cultures out there that need, strike that, are begging for your feedback.

      August 22, 2010 at 3:10 am |
      • Jesse

        Pierce can't afford the burger college tuition to work at mc donalds.

        August 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
    • robot chop

      yeah, whenever i see a person with a camera i assume they are borderline asian. see how stupid this is?

      August 22, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • Ashley

      Well, then it would be safe for me to assume according to your statement that you are shallow minded, and close minded, LOL your statement actually makes me laugh. People have been getting tattoo's since 3,500 b.c. as far as we know, probably even longer than that.......................

      August 23, 2010 at 11:54 am |
      • Jesse

        Yes but we all know that people 3500 years ago were trashy, bottom feeders who are holding pierce back.

        August 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Jesse

      Wow those are some well thought out knee jerk reactions. I would love to hear your conspiracy theories. Would you like an aluminum foil deflector beanie or how about a bridge to live under. Cause you sound like a paranoid troll.

      August 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  9. Matt

    Interesting. Those of you who have such disdain for tattoos in general and the few others who are so fashion forward that they are beyond tattoos and on to the next thing still took time to read an article that was clearly written for those with an expressed interest in tattoos and those who choose to have them. It's not as if you were duped into reading the article thinking it was on another topic. So I ask. Why did you even bother? I'll tell you. You're in need of personal interests. Suggestion. Why not start a blog for proudly non-tattooed people? Imagine all the ad revenue from cosmetic and skin care companies. With all the fun and excitement you would have precious little time to tell people who have tattoos that you don't like tattoos.

    August 21, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • robot chop

      well said matt. there are unfortunately too few straightedge people who are tolerant and open minded enough to not pass judgement on those of us who choose to have tattoos. choose is the keyword here. most of us who have had a lot of work done do it for various reason (keeping up with what is "in" is not among those). usually it is a form of artistic expression, and make no mistake, chef are artists. we have an especially strange culture that we inhabit as well. your average person would never make it through one fully booked dinner service in a professional kitchen. so normal people have no right to judge us anyways. critique my food, not my personal life choices.

      August 21, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  10. russ

    Most ugly tattoo I ever have seen!

    August 21, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  11. Bobbie

    Hepatitis. They don't allow you to donate blood if you are tatted.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
    • Doitagain

      Incorrect Bobbie; I have 3 tattoos and I give blood regularly.

      August 20, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
    • Kevin

      News flash: it isn't the 1950's anymore.
      There is 0% chance of getting hepatitus from a modern, reputable tattoo parlor.
      The 'bad old days' days of reusing needles have been over for decades.

      August 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
      • Jesse

        Actually if they don't use fresh ink that is if they dip a fresh needle in a used container of ink tatooing 2 people, although most of them are better than hospitals about hygiene.

        August 23, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • Jesse

      You only have to wait one year from a fresh tattoo to donate.

      August 23, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  12. Online CNA Classes

    Keep up the good work, I like your writing.

    August 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  13. SOS

    Tatoos are slowly falling by the wayside, remember all the girls who had their top of their backside tatooed? Now look at todays young girls, if any have a tatoo, it is a small little thing. I loved that SNL skit about the tatoo removel.

    August 20, 2010 at 5:14 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      That's called a "tramp stamp", and I always thought they were stupid, even on hot chicks. I can't stand whores and a tramp stamp is like a badge for that group. And I like chicks with tattoos. Just not that one. The new craze for chicks is getting tattooed on the foot.

      August 20, 2010 at 9:40 am |
      • brian

        totally agree hate "tramp stamps" but i do love girls with tatoos just not on the lower back

        August 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • beenz

      I just keep thinking.. imagine, 50 years down the road...a tramp stamp above an adult diaper. Not too sexy!

      August 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
      • Guest

        50 years from now you will be covered in drooping, saggy skin and won't like the way your body looks regardless of wether it has tattoos or not. It's hard to live in the present if you're always worried about the future.

        August 26, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  14. jumped-the-shark

    Tatoos–the new mullet.
    They are so boring and so hard to ignore.
    Please, people, get a new "herd" trend.

    August 20, 2010 at 1:41 am |
    • Jesse

      Yeah like annoying insult posting.

      August 23, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  15. whatnext

    Read tattoos on Chef Bryan Voltaggio – And among tomorrow's Don't Miss stories...

    August 19, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  16. pasta-chef

    check out M.S. Live to Cook (cook book). Great stories and amazing recipes, plus pics of his tats.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  17. pasta-chef

    This douche bag got the idea off of Micheal Symon... Chef Symon has had foodie tats for years.

    August 19, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I love Michael Symon, but I'll note – he surely isn't the one who started it. Chefs have sported notable ink coverage for ages. Perhaps seeing as they're up against blades and fire all the time, they're less scared of pain than most folks.

      http://www.eatmedaily.com/2009/09/reader-objects-to-chef-tattoos-on-the-cover-of-food-wine/

      August 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants

        So that's what you look like, Kat. Read your comment about some loser writing you about looking like a low-rent Amy Winehouse. LOL. People are so judgmental, I had a manager once that absolutley HATED tatooes. So we tried to display them as much as we could, which is difficult in a professional environment. More like "Hey, check this out." Whenever she was nearby.

        August 20, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  18. ferg

    gross tattoo

    August 19, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
    • J Man

      good thing its not on you, now move along

      August 20, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  19. duff

    that pig tattoo looks stupid.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • Billy O

      Really over the whole "tatts are cool" thing. Guess what unless you got your tatts from prison or you were heavy drinking sailor... Tattoos are so mainstream now ladies in Beverly Hills go shopping for them these days.
      Another example I had a favorite shirt back in the 80's, wore it all the time back then. If I had it permanently attached to my skin I probably would not be so proud of it today. it's your body but remember fashion changes and tats are going to date most people like a bad hair style.

      August 21, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • Juni

      Agreed. Cool idea. Poor execution.

      August 22, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
      • Jesse

        I just think the shading doesn't work, otherwise it was a pretty good design.

        August 23, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  20. TGFWASP

    Dirty and stupid.

    August 19, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
    • Jesse

      I assume your talking about your response.

      August 23, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  21. alj

    wish you guys had posted the pictures of all five tatts featured in the article.

    August 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  22. piglet

    Why does the pig have such a long tail? Love it regardless as you can tell by my nickname!

    August 19, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
    • miller

      I was thinking the same thing! The front 1/2 is a pig and the back 1/2 is a possum! Tat musta been done by a cityboy who knows nothing of curly Q's!

      August 20, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  23. Dave

    To Kristen:

    'Shouldn't things like this go without saying? What does that say about people?'

    It says 'Child Protective Services or the local police does not need to show up at my house tomorrow morning'.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  24. Kristen

    I think its sort of sad that the editor has to explicitly state that the child's tattoo would wash off. Shouldn't things like this go without saying? What does that say about people?

    Fun article regardless.

    August 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  25. robot chop

    how much do i love being a tatted up chef? a lot.

    August 19, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
    • rob hynes

      ... so, you love yourself?

      August 19, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
      • robot chop

        most chefs do. but i am also my own harshest critic.

        August 20, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
    • Louis

      Wonderful addition to the menu!

      August 29, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  26. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    Now I'm hungry for tacos. Fish tacos, mmmm.

    While I understand his reasoning for the pig tattoo, that would probably be the last animal I'd ever get tattooed on my body. I just see them as being stinky and annoying. When I lived in rural America for a few years in High School, you could smell the pig farm 3/4 mile away when the wind was right. And when it was hot and muggy.....hhoooo, boy.

    Should have gotten a more manly tattoo. Something more along the lines of a Platypus or even a Chinchilla. Soft, cuddly, sweet chinchilla.

    August 19, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
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