Welcome back to Ink Spotted, a new feature in which Eater talks to DC's tattooed chefs and gets the stories behind their most intriguing ink.
- "Itâ€™s my ode to Graffiato."
- "I was supposed to go to Greece for the first time with a friend, but at the last minute they backed out. But I said, â€œ\'Screw it. Iâ€™m going.' I filled up my backpack and went with no reservations anywhere. It was a life-changing moment, because
- "When I was in Greece, people told me, 'To become a great chef you have to be able to cook a perfect octopus.'"
- "I was traveling with some chefs in Salamanca, Spain, and we went to the arenas where they have the bullfights. Years ago, boys had to kill a bull to become a man. If you didnâ€™t do it, they threw food at you and disgraced you."
- "I got it before I went to compete on Top Chef the first time to keep all the evil spirits away from me."
- "Heâ€™s a poisonous frog from South America, inspired by some trips to the rainforests in Brazil."
- "My mom and my wife have peacock feathers around the house, because they mean good luck."
- "I got that as a young cook when I was in Philadelphia, because I always wanted to become a star."
- "One of my favorite movies as a kid was Legend with Tom Cruise, which takes place in the marshes with fairies, so this is my nod to my childhood."
A decade ago, Graffiato's Mike Isabella walked into the now-defunct Nicole's on the Upper West Side of New York City looking for a job. He was surprised to find that the eatery's chef sported blue hair and a body crisscrossed with tattoos. "I thought it was the coolest thing," says Isabella, who scored the gig that day. "It made me realize that chefs don't care what you look like. They only care if you have a clean outfit and sharp knives." Strangely enough, the tattoo-loving cook that hired Isabella was none other Ed Witt, who now works as the executive chef at 701.
The Top Chef contestant now sports more than a dozen tattoos himself, many inspired by important junctions in his life. Last December, he was wracking his brain for a tattoo to commemorate the upcoming opening of his Penn Quarter hotspot. "I wanted something tough and cool," he says. "So I got a badass pizza cutter with brass knuckles."
He's in the midst of a sea scene that will consume the space from his knee to his ankle on his right leg. Right now there's only an uncolored octopus, but he plans on filling in the rest of the space with a variety of edible marine life and some prehistoric undersea monsters. "I'm not looking forward to it," he admits. "It's going to take a long time and it's going to hurt."
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