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Cooking Corner

Chefs Who Love Good Food and Good Tattoos

Hanis Cavin, executive chef at Kensington Grill, shows some his tattoos. Photo by K.C. Alfred

Hanis Cavin, executive chef at Kensington Grill, shows some his tattoos. Photo by K.C. Alfred

By Tovin Lapan

Chefs are artistic, passionate and slightly offbeat by nature. Their canvas is the plate.
“I always say I can’t paint like the rest of my family, but my art’s on a plate,” says Hanis Cavin, executive chef at Kensington Grill.
You need to watch only a few episodes of “Top Chef” — or peek behind the doors of any restaurant kitchen — to notice that the devotion to the craft and artistic nature of chefs is often also prominently displayed in the form of colorful, bold and plentiful tattoos, many of which are directly tied to their profession. Tattoos are more popular and accepted today than in the past, but they have long been part of the hidden culture of the kitchen.
“I think there is a ‘back-of-the-house’ culture that has a lot to do with it,” said John Garcia, executive chef of The W Hotel. “To take an old cliche, we’re like a bunch of pirates running a ship.”
Here are profiles of four chefs with food-related tattoos, and one bartender who also inked her passion on her skin, and the inspiration behind them.
Hanis Cavin, 43, executive chef Kensington Grill
“The meaning of [the spoon] is that I taste all day long, so I felt it was a symbol of what I do. … Then we have the breakdown of the pig and its body parts because I’m in love with pigs.”
“When I got the ‘Driven’ tattoo, I was thinking ‘Am I really going to keep working 12- to 13-hour days?’ I realized one morning that I wanted to keep doing this, so I went in and had that put on, and every day when I look in the bathroom, in the mirror, there it is, ‘Driven,’ and it reminds me to keep moving forward.”
John Garcia, 35, executive chef The W Hotel
“If you look at it, it’s half the skull, half the actual face, so then you see both sides — the dark and the happy guy. The fire behind it was mainly because I was working sautŽs. … The diamonds and the stars I added when I received them … the AAA 5 Diamond and Mobile 5 Star awards.”
Melody Moulton, 29, bartender, Starlite, Riviera Supper Club, and Station Tavern
“A good friend of mine … moved away to Paris and was visiting last fall. He was like, ‘Do you want to get a friendship tattoo together?’ … We were sort of racking our brains, and since we’re both bartenders, we said let’s get a booze bottle. So we have matching ones.”
Steve Pickett, 29, chef, Aviara Resort
“(My tattoo) is an homage to Anthony Bourdain’s symbol on his chef’s coat, it’s kind of his logo. I have added some color to it. I idolize him not just as a professional cook but as a writer and for what he’s done for the food industry.”
Josh Maynard, 28, sous chef, The Big Easy
“I have some script that says “Debrouillard” on the side of my neck … and basically it’s a French kitchen term for the guy who gets things done no matter what the circumstances are in front of him.”


1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pound ground pork (not lean)
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
BBQ Sauce
Makes about 20 meatballs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Saute the garlic and shallots in olive oil until nice and caramelized, about 4 minutes. Place garlic and shallots in a large bowl and let cool a few minutes. Add remaining ingredients, and mix well.
Roll mixture into 1-ounce balls, about the size of a walnut. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Place cooked meatballs in a bowl, and coat with BBQ Sauce and serve.


1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups ketchup
Makes about 2 cups

Saute onion and garlic until golden brown in a large saute pan. Add remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.
Let sauce cool slightly. Add to a blender and puree until smooth.
From chef Hanis Cavin, Kensington Grill

Tovin Lapan writes about food for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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