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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Chefs and bartenders serve up individuality through their tattoos

They reveal their hearts when they roll up their sleeves, wearing their passions like the scars of their first blistering burn or cut from the slip of a knife – with pride.

Tattoos provide some chefs and bartenders with constant reminders of a certain dish or dream, calling and career. Their ink is as much a part of their uniforms as chef whites and black barkeep aprons. But, unlike uniforms, they express individuality.

“For me, this is how I feel comfortable in my own skin and more confident about myself,” said Stephanie Goldsmith, 34, a server and occasional bartender at Hogwash Whiskey Den in downtown Spokane. She has “too many (tattoos) to count” – from her forehead to her feet. “This is,” she said, “who I am.”

Images show off the tools of the trade: cleavers embedded into forearms, a jigger etched onto the side of a finger, a martini glass ingrained above an elbow, a chef hat imprinted on an upper arm.

There are favorite ingredients, too – a saffron crocus, various kinds of fish, juniper berries, a bottle of beer, garlic bulbs, a carrot or two.

Here, members of the local restaurant industry share their expressions of art, creativity and individualism, passion and purpose.

Cody Winfrey

26, freelance bartender, Spokane

Cody Winfrey poses for a photo on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. 

Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Cody Winfrey poses for a photo on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The symbol sits on the side of his left ring finger, stretching not even an entire inch but representing one of the most important tools of his trade. He and two of his best bartending friends got the same outline of a miniature jigger. He calls it his “fingermajigger.”

“I’m married to my job was sort of the gag,” he said.

Winfrey got his first tattoo at 18. Today, he has 34. “I started to feel so much more comfortable in my own skin because I could customize it. I could make that choice,” said Winfrey, underscoring that each one represents “significant memories or people who’ve influenced my life.”

Only three are industry-inspired. There’s the jigger along with an homage to gin – “It’s my favorite” – with juniper berries, lavender and lemon, a nod to the White Lady cocktail as well as Whyte Laydie Dry Gin.

Another dually represents his love of cocktails and Tim Burton, specifically his film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” It depicts a canister of deadly nightshade from the 1993 animated movie as well as a spider, dropping from the rim of a martini glass, and a shaker, spilling over.

“Bartending comes with a degree of taboo with its history of Prohibition,” Winfrey said. “I think there’s a respectful rebellious streak to bartenders who make it a career.” Tattoos and bartending are, he said, a “natural” fit.

Winfrey guesses he’s spent about $5,000 in all – mostly tip money – on tattoos in the past seven or eight years. “They’re addicting.”

Mike McElroy

39, executive chef at Casper Fry, Spokane

Mike McElroy (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Mike McElroy (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

He lost track of the total years ago. There are just “too many to count.” His tattoos, like his memories, run together. But the images help him remember. “I guess that’s kind of the allure of it,” he said. “In one way or another it’s a life-changing moment whenever you get a tattoo.”

McElroy worked in kitchens from California to Texas and Louisiana before returning to Spokane to cook in his hometown. “I knew before I ever thought about my career that I was going to be covered in tattoos. It was never a question in my mind.”

He considers his tattoos “partly an outward expression toward the world and partly a road map of my past.” He got his first one when he was “probably 16,” a symbol for squatters’ rights. As a kid, he was fascinated by his grandfather’s collection of National Geographic magazines and their photographs of tribal tattoos. He was a skateboarder and dropout who grew up and found his calling in kitchens “before the rise of celebrity chefs and Food Network. When I got into it, if you were over 25 and working in a kitchen, you’d just gotten out of prison. Kitchens were full of really surly outcasts that couldn’t really do anything else.

“There are still places that won’t hire people like me. It’s in their rule book. That’s their prerogative. If you don’t want somebody with tattoos representing your brand I’ve got nothing against you.”

McElroy waited to get ink past his wrists and above his neckline until after he finished working at Commander’s Palace, an award-winning restaurant in the famed Garden District of New Orleans. “I wanted my résumé to look so good that, when they read it, it wouldn’t matter what I looked like. Working a year at Commander’s Palace, in my mind, sealed the deal.”

Only two of his tattoos are testaments to his chef’s life: a butcher’s knife on his left arm, a boning knife on his right. They’re reminders of more than his vocation. The boning knife honors a late friend, a fishmonger who committed suicide. The cleaver is the likeness of a wedding gift from his brother. “The guy who did the tattoo lost it,” McElroy said. “So I got the tattoo but I never got to use the knife.”

Ben Poffenroth

30, partner and vice president, Durkin’s Liquor Bar, Casper Fry, and Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie, Spokane

Ben Poffenroth (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Ben Poffenroth (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

He was 21 when he got his first one. Today, he isn’t sure just how many he has. “I lost count after the first sleeve. I wish sometimes they were in other places. I’m running out of space. But I wouldn’t take any away.”

The restaurateur – he owns three local establishments with his older sister and their mother – usually pulls one bartending shift per week and a couple of his tattoos are loosely related to drinking culture. On his left bicep, there’s a Mr. Muerte figure with a skull, top hat and cartoonish body, carrying a martini glass in a white-gloved hand. “Mr. Muerte is supposed to be the bright side of death. He’s the reminder that (the) afterlife can still be fun, if you believe in life after death.”

All but one of Poffenroth’s tattoos were done by artist Chris Spriggs at Rage City Tattoo. “I think his style and my style are the same. He’s very into: make it bold, make it stay, make it last.” His latest, on his leg, shows three stages of a skeleton drinking from a bottle, spilling drops, planting a flower.

“For me, it’s not a rite of passage,” Poffenroth said. It’s not a hierarchy thing, either. “You’re not higher in the ranks if you have more tattoos.” Rather, he said, “it’s about expression.” And, “Most people are pretty receptive.”

Branden Moreau

30, food service director, Rockwood Retirement Communities Hawthorne, Spokane

Branden Moreau (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Branden Moreau (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

His right arm features a chef’s hat surrounded by a variety of produce and seafood, and a saffron flower. “They’re ingredients I use every day,” said Moreau, who had the sleeve outlined about a dozen years ago. It took about four or five sessions throughout the course of a year to fill it all in. “I like to share with people what I like to do, and that is to make people happy with food. I’m just passionate about what I do. It’s a reminder of why I love cooking.”

His tattoos remind him of his other loves, too. His sons’ footprints are tattooed on his neck – “straight from their birth certificates.” There’s a portrait of his father on his left shoulder, too. “Every one of my tattoos has a story behind it.”

Moreau got his first when he was 16: a yo-yo. Like many others, he’s lost track of his total. “The biggest thing for me, if I could describe my tattoos in one word, is passion. It’s what I love to do. It’s a huge part of my life and that’s why it’s on my body.”

But, he noted, “I thought tattoos were cool before I started cooking. It’s not always about the food. It’s about the relationships you build and the people you meet and the connections you make.”

Moreau wants more, but “there are other priorities in my life, like my children,” who are 4 and 8. “I will get more – someday.”

Stephanie Goldsmith

34, server and bartender, Hogwash Whiskey Den, Spokane

Stephanie Goldsmith (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Stephanie Goldsmith (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Her first tattoo, a cherubic cartoon devil, is gone now. She had it removed and covered. “The choices you make at 18,” she said.

Today, her tattoos run from her forehead to her feet. She isn’t sure exactly how many she has. “After the first four or five years, I stopped counting.”

There’s an anchor on her left cheek, the word “heathen” on her scalp, and the saying “hold fast” on her forehead. She has two tattoos on the back of her neck and a nod to a Hank Williams Jr. song – the words “whiskey bent” and “hell bound” – on both of her hands. “I’m a whiskey girl, 100 percent. It’s definitely my favorite spirit. I typically drink it straight. A shot of whiskey and a cheap beer. Rainier. It’s a thing. When you get off work, it’s really wonderful.”

On her left arm, there’s a pineapple, the symbol of the hospitality industry as well as an inside joke, a reminder of a spontaneous trip to Seattle with another Spokane bartender and friend who got the same tattoo. Goldsmith also sports a “born and raised” Spokane-themed tattoo on her left wrist, a geisha and tiger on her back and, in other places, tarot- and Grimm fairytale-themed tattoos. She’s working on her left leg.

“There’s a misconception that people with tattoos are not hard-working or have been to prison,” she said. “Most of the people I know with tattoos are very driven and hard-working, very giving and compassionate people.

“I don’t like the people who feel like they have a right to come up to me and say ‘Why did you do that to yourself?’ I think tattoos are really beautiful. It’s art and a way for people to express who they are or carry the things with them that are important to them.”

Chad White

34, chef and owner, Zona Blanca, Spokane, La Justina, Tijuana, and Craft Pizza, San Diego

Chad White (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Chad White (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The tattoo on his upper right arm isn’t finished. It’s a mermaid whose face is inked in the likeness of La Catarina, Mexico’s grand dame of death and a symbol of the Day of the Dead. Instead of a single fish tale, she sports octopus tentacles, intertwined with fish, the main ingredient of ceviche, the specialty at his downtown Spokane eatery.

White has sat for two four-hour sessions so far, but the artist is in San Diego. He estimates there’s another 16 hours of work left. When it’s done, the tattoo will meander down his forearm and onto his hand. “I wanted something that spoke to the two things I’m most passionate about in food and that’s seafood and Latin flavors.”

White has five tattoos. “One was a bad bet” from his time in the Navy. The Sonics were playing the Lakers. The winner got to choose a tattoo for the loser. Now, he has “carpe diem” on his lower back. “It could’ve been a lot worse.”

His first tattoo was the word “luck” on his right shoulder. He got it in high school. He also has a Celtic knot with a clover on his right wrist. On his lower left leg: a bottle of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA pouring out with a sculpin fish and water. He got it in honor of a Ballast Point dinner he hosted at a restaurant he used to have. It was, he said, his favorite beer. These days, though, “I don’t drink.”

Molly Patrick

37, executive chef, The Blackbird and Manito Tap House, Spokane

Molly Patrick (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Molly Patrick (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

She applied to be a server. But the little Italian eatery between Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, needed a cook. So, at 16, Patrick landed her first job in the kitchen – and launched what would become her culinary career. “They drew pictures on, like, big pieces of cardboard of all the dishes I was responsible for. It was the funnest thing I ever did. I didn’t know anything, and I wanted to know everything.”

Patrick is 4-foot-11 and couldn’t quite reach the wall-mounted oven. “I had a little step stool,” she said. “It kind of saved my life, cooking. It was just a hard time in my life. I was going nowhere. I didn’t have any direction.”

But she already had two tattoos. She got her first one at 14, a rose on her cheek (not on her face, the other one). Her friend did it. “I was kind of a wild child.” Around the same time, she also got three little dots between her thumb and pointer finger. And, at 18, she got a lily on her neck in honor of her grandfather. Then, she took a break. It’s not that she didn’t want more; it’s “because I was a really broke cook for a really long time.”

Patrick’s worked in nine restaurants, learning on the job and teaching herself – including a year-and-a-half-long stint back-packing through France. “I wanted to learn the country side of French cooking. I wanted to learn how to make bread and cheese – and I did. I slept in barns and milked goats, and I smelled.”

Patrick transferred to the Inland Northwest through DoubleTree in the early 2000s – and started adding tattoos again. She got a rosary – not beads, but cherry blossoms – on her hand in honor of her grandmother. On her shoulder, La Catarina, the Day of the Dead icon, honors her father. On her arm, a Tim Burton-inspired tattoo depicts the characters of Jack Skellington and Sally – and represents her culinary career. “He’s sewing her back together, and that’s what cooking did for me. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t cook. It kept me focused, and it was something bigger than me.”

Travis Whiteside

39, owner and chef, Rawdeadfish, Coeur d’Alene

Travis Whiteside (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Travis Whiteside (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

He only has two tattoos, but they run together to resemble one. He got the first 13 or 14 years ago: a sushi knife crisscrossed with a pair of chopsticks. “It’s the first knife I purchased when I was apprenticing,” he said.

It cost about $200, but Whiteside didn’t have that kind of money. “My master chef bought it, and I paid him off through my paycheck.”

Today, he said, “these tools pay the bills. They support the family.” The initials of four of his six children are inscribed in the tattoo. He needs, he said, to add the two youngest.

Wrapped around the knife and chopsticks: an octopus, added about three years ago. It’s one of his favorite creatures – and ingredients. “They’re beautiful, and they are bizarre. They’re fascinating, for sure.”

An image of an octopus wraps around his food truck. Whiteside sees it as a kind of protector or guardian as well as symbol. “It’s kind of like a seal,” or a coat of arms – “the guardian of the family. It’s protecting us.”

Jeremy Hansen

41, chef and owner, Sante Restaurant and Charcuterie, Common Crumb Artisan Bakery, Hogwash Whiskey Den and Inland Pacific Kitchen, Spokane

Jeremy Hansen (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Jeremy Hansen (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

“There’s always a carrot dangling.” There’s always that incentive or reward, just beyond reach, motivating and inspiring and leading the way.

With four establishments to his credit, Hansen said, “I’m pretty happy with all of my restaurants and the things we’re doing. I’m really proud about where I am in life. I got my carrot.”

The root-shaped reminder is embedded on the back of his lower left arm along with a fennel bulb on the front. He got it during a trip to New York City, where he lived at the beginning of his culinary career – when he ate and cooked with a lot of fennel. The tattoo reminds him of that time as well as subsequent trips to the city to cook at the famous James Beard House. On his right arm: an intricate dragon, a souvenir from a recent trip to Japan. He loves it. “It’s a perfect tattoo.”

He picks up tattoos on his travels – from Austin, Texas, to Hong Kong, Thailand and beyond. “When I travel, I travel for food and culture and friends and eating with friends,” he said. Cooking is, he said, “what I do for a living. But I love traveling.” His ink represents both.

“I was going to get a pineapple. A pineapple is the symbol of hospitality.

“I’ll get a few more. Once you start getting them, you kind of get an addiction. Once you get your first one, you’re going to get more.”

His are “kind of all over the map. But they mean something to me. There’s a story behind every one of them. I try to get one everywhere I go. I might just get my pineapple here.”