A Culinary Canvas of Self-Expression


By Anne-Marie Pritchett 

Renowned chefs are known for their culinary artistry, but behind the scenes, many of them share another form of self-expression: tattoos. These inked creations tell stories, symbolize memories, and reflect personal passions. We talked to three celebrated chefs, Michelin-starred Curtis Duffy, Top Chef alumnae and Food Network personality Brooke Williamson, and James Beard Emerging Chef Rochelle Daniel, who shared their insights on the intersection of food and tattoos, revealing the striking similarities between their culinary craft and body art. Each tattoo etches a unique chapter of their lives, creating a living memoir that accompanies them on their culinary journeys.


Curtis Duffy is a world-renowned, Michelin-starred chef and co-owner of Ever restaurant and After lounge in Chicago. While Duffy has numerous accolades, the two Michelin stars awarded to Ever and three Michelin stars from his previous restaurant, Grace, are a highlight of his culinary story. Duffy’s culinary and philanthropic efforts led to his induction into the prestigious Disciples d’Escoffier International. 

How do food and tattoos allow for self-expression?

I express myself through my food; it’s my form of art. I put a lot of thought into the visual aspect of each dish; it’s not just a bowl of food I’m putting out there. I want dishes that are aesthetically pleasing. 

My tattoos are also a visual expression of my experiences; each one has a reason for being there. Each tattoo is very personal, and I think a lot about them before getting a new one. Each has a purpose — a good meaning or a bad meaning. Each represents a moment in time or a person I want to remember. When I’m 80 years old, I want to be able to look back on my tattoos and remember the important things in my life. My tattoos are like a memoir I’ve inked on myself.  

 While there is a dichotomy between cooking food (sharing with others) and getting tattoos (very personal), there are also similarities between both in this manner. Can you expand on this idea? 

For me, getting new ink is like a therapy session. I’m able to be still for several hours and not commit to anything other than that session at that moment.  

Cooking has always been the same for me; it’s therapy. When I’m cooking, I’m doing what I love to do, totally absorbed in it, thinking of nothing else.

Do you have a good story that you’d like to share about one of your tattoos? 

My dad gave me my first two tattoos; he was a tattoo artist back in the day. He signed “love dad” in one of them. They mean the world to me since he is no longer living.

My left arm is full of butterflies, representing my two daughters and remembrances of my mom and dad. I have a tattoo of my wife’s initials, and both of my daughters’ names are inscribed in one of my Day of the Dead skulls.

 Shortly after I earned my third Michelin star in 2015, I got three Michelin stars tattooed on the outside edge of my right hand. It was such a meaningful moment in my life; I wanted to add it to my story. 


Co-owner of Playa Provisions

You might recognize chef Brooke Williamson as Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 14, the first-ever winner of Food Network’s “Tournament of Champions,” and a recurring judge on popular cooking shows. But her culinary journey began way before she became a well-known TV personality. Williamson started at age 17 and hasn‘t stopped — fierce determination, stellar education, and prestigious mentorships have led this culinary titan to great entrepreneurial success. Currently, she co-owns Playa Provisions, a unique model that includes four different restaurant concepts nestled within one 7,000-square-foot beachside location in Playa Del Rey, CA. 

“Being a chef is all about expressing yourself artistically and creatively, so in this way, I feel cooking and tattoos can come from the same arena. My tattoos are really just for me, but generally, when I’m cooking, I’m cooking for others. Food is the way that I show love to those around me.”

Williamson shared that her tattoos are a combination of art and inspiration, and each one is a reflection of something that is meaningful to her. Many of the chef’s tattoos reflect where she’s from and what she cares about. “Most notably, I have my son’s handprints on the back of my shoulder from when he was just six months old. When he was little, his handprints were stamped on an ink pad and saved, and they were perfectly transferred to my shoulder; it’s kind of wild to look at how small those hands once were. I also have a salamander that represents a lucky charm my son gave me when he was only 4 1/2 years old when I left for my first season of “Top Chef.” I carried it with me for 10+ years; I had it in my pocket for every single cooking challenge I did on TV. I was so afraid that I would one day lose it, so I had it tattooed on me so I could have it forever,” she says.


Owner of Atria

For some of the country’s most acclaimed chefs, the culinary world isn’t the only canvas on which they express their creativity and passion. Chef Rochelle Daniel, James Beard Award Emerging Chef and owner of Atria in Flagstaff, AZ, pays homage to her personal journey and the art of self-expression through food and ink.

“Throughout my life, food has been a way to express myself creatively. I can experiment with flavors, textures, and presentations to create unique dishes that reflect my style. Same with my tattoos. As chefs, we put together visually stunning dishes as an art form, using our experiences, cultures, or emotions to tell a story, and I feel like it’s relative to a tattoo in the same way. Tattoos represent individuals telling personal stories, experiences, and emotions to share with others outwardly or to keep hidden, personal to themselves,” she says.

For Daniel, self-expression symbolizes the balance between emotion and logic and the connection between the heart and mind, finding harmony between the two when she cooks. The heart is emotion, love, passion, and empathy. The brain is intelligence, logic, creativity, and reasoning. “The two are equally important in a kitchen, as it is physically and mentally demanding. I try to embrace both emotional and logical thinking to have a good balance. My restaurant’s name is Atria, and this is a chamber in the human heart where the heart receives blood. My tattoo of the human heart represents this balance. In it, the chamber is open with flowers growing from it. This represents the growth of my life and career, even during some of the hardest times, and how I will continue to evolve,” she adds.

Cooking and tattoos can be tied to cultural traditions and evoke emotions and memories. Dishes can bring back nostalgic memories or comfort us during challenging times. Similarly, tattoos can serve as a reminder of significant moments, loved ones, or personal milestones, evoking strong emotions.

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