Walk into any one of the hip restaurants and bars in Toronto that appeal to a young demographic – let’s say Grand Electric, Marben, Parts & Labour, to name a few – and you can be sure that you’ll be greeted by an array of heavily tattooed employees. It’s like a city-wide uniform has been agreed upon. Turn on the TV and you’ll see food celebrities like Chuck Hughes, Guy Fieri and Anthony Bourdain proudly displaying their ink, too. It seems that food and tattoos are becoming more and more inseparable.
“It’s one of the few industries where you can have tattoos and get away with it,” says Grant van Gameren, chef and co-owner of Bar Isabel (who has at least three tattoos that he was willing to discuss). “My father saw my first tattoo when I was 15 and he was like, ‘What the hell are you doing, how are you ever going to get a job?”’
Julian Manley, bartender at Keriwa Café (tattoo count: six), said that in his previous experience working at places like Origin “tattoos were subtly encouraged. It’s something for the customer to look at and talk to you about. And they know their audience and who they want to attract. The younger generation responds to tattoos. Tattoos are like a scrapbook of your experiences and what’s important to you.”
Keriwa chef/owner Aaron Joseph Bear Robe (who has one full sleeve of tats and another in the works) agrees that the safety of not having professional repercussions allows restaurant employees to bravely adorn their bodies as much as they like. But there’s more to the popularity of body art in food service. “Someone who works with their hands and is passionate about what they do, like a cook, it makes sense that they’d want to display that passion on their body.”
It’s not just cooks and bartenders who are passionate about food these days. The prevalence of ‘foodies’ and amateur food photography on Instagram are proof that this younger generation, who are spending more and more of their time (and disposable income) in restaurants, have become obsessed with food. This could explain why tattoos of cupcakes, sushi, cookies, and butcher’s diagrams are popping up on the forearms of more and more people who have never even worked a day in a kitchen. Food has become a passion for a huge demographic of young people, something they want to add to their visual “scrapbook.”
George, a tattoo artist at Seven Crowns Tattoo, says that though food tattoos have been popular for years, he has seen an increase lately. “People with a good sense of humour get pieces that not only resonate with them, but are also something they can have fun with,” he said. Gets us to thinking…