It's not hard to mistake Top Chef with LA Ink, considering both shows are heavy on the tattoos and cheese. It almost seems like high-end NY eateries require full sleeves for a souffle.
Taking a look at the art of chef tattoos is Zagat's Tattoo Tell-All series.
Aside from the use of "tats" and my usual pet peeve of not naming the tattoo artists behind the work, it's a good read--particularly the "Ink Insight" section addressing the why question.
Here are some quotes to give you a taste:
"There are a lot of tattooed punk-rock kids in the kitchen because it has punk-rock energy. If you're a banker giving out million-dollar loans, you can't have a tattoo on your hand, but it's funny that someone tattooed, like Nate Appleman, might have a great career, but some people wouldn't want to sit next to him on the subway."
-- Jamie Bissonnette, Coppa and Toro
"Maybe chefs like tats because we are always burning our arms? I've never gotten one to cover a burn but I've gotten burned on top of my tattoos. Gives it a three-dimensional look."
-- Seamus Mullen, Boqueria [shown right]
"I consider tattoos [to be] art like cooking is an art. My tattoos don't scream, 'look at me, I'm a chef!' I just like to create little things that send little messages about who I am as a person. I do the same thing when I cook."
-- Michael Voltaggio, Langham Huntington Dining Room
Read more on the Zagat Blog.
UPDATE: LA Weekly also has an extensive article on chef tattoos with a juicy slideshow, including the one below by Amy Scattergood of Carolynn Spence, Chateau Marmont.
Thanks, Kir Bostic, for the link!
**Also, if you have food-related tattoos, feel free to upload them on Flickr to our brand new NeedlesandSins.com Reader Photo Group. **