Cape Town Chefs Tell Us the Stories Behind Their Tattoos

Words: Crush

These days it seems you can’t spit without hitting a tattooed chef. It’s clear that there is some unwritten rule that if you cook, you must be inked too. Not that we’re complaining, the popularity of tattoos in the culinary world only serves to further the intriguing element of chefs. Considering chefs are known to be fiery and tattoos are meant to be deeply personal, it seems another way of them wearing their hearts on their sleeves. We get a glimpse at the tattoos of some of our favourite Cape Town chefs, as well as the stories behind them.

Cheyne Morrisby //
Owner, Cheyne’s, Lucky Bao, Shio

Inspired by his travels, Cheyne Morrisby brings his Pacific Rim-style food to Cape Town at Cheyne’s in Hout Bay, Lucky Bao and Shio in De Waterkant. Focused on big flavour, intimate dining spaces and just all-round cool vibe, these spots are some of our favourites. Cheyne_Morrisby-tattoo

Age of your first tattoo: 24-years old

Your most recent tattoo: The word HOPE on my knuckles.

The artist: Manuela Gray / Wildfire

Your inspiration: Japan

Is getting tattoos addictive? It’s definitely a special pain – puts you into a heightened yet deep space.

Do they all have special meaning to you? Yes, I found art that inspires me
and having Manuela get that into a tattoo inspires me all day every day.

Which one hurt the most? Elbow!!

Any regrets? Zero

Ashley Moss//
Head Chef, Greenhouse

Chef Ashley Moss grew up in Cape Town and is inspired by the world around him – from foraging seaweed and dune spinach on the beaches of Muizenberg, to finding ingredients in the natural gardens of the hotel. He graduated from the SA Chefs Academy and went straight to working at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel. He then spent time at Greenhouse at Cellars Hohenort before a stint in the UK. Thereafter, he returned to Greenhouse to continue working with Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff.

Age of your first tattoo: 18

Your most recent tattoo: A space-themed full sleeve cover up on my left arm.

The artist: Baked, from Baked Ink (@bakedink), he did my right sleeve and chest as well.

Your inspiration: Mostly just an appreciation for art as a visual expression of an idea or story. My right sleeve is depicting a Shinigami (Japanese death God) capturing a Geisha’s soul on his necklace, and it spreads across to my chest where a crow is stealing another soul from the necklace. I started discussing the idea with Baked, he created a visual concept and it grew organically from there.

Is getting tattoos addictive? That depends on the individual entirely. I’m personally not planning on stopping any time soon!

Do they all have special meaning to you? They are all special in that they mean something to me. I got my daughter’s name tattooed behind my ear on her first birthday.

Which one hurt the most? I think my chest, on the sternum, but I tend to forget the pain pretty quickly. That’s why I keep going back. I do think that each tattoo session has its own point at which the pain crescendos, it can be less about placement and more to do with time spent tattooing a specific area.

Any regrets? I made a few mistakes with my left arm. I didn’t do my research and ended up with an agglomeration of poorly planned and executed tattoos. Luckily Baked is doing an insane job covering up such dark and saturated tattoos with an amazing space theme. Can’t wait!


Jason Lilley//
Owner Jason Bakery, Bree Street & Green Point

Jason Lilley has done wonders for the world of baking, taking it from the realms of fluffy and pink and flinging it into dark, dangerous and sinfully good. Just looking at the doughssants on the Jason Bakery Instagram feed will make the waistline of your jeans tighter. Whether it’s bread, pastries, tarts or sarmies, Jason Bakery has it all. FYI, real baking is not for sissies.

Age of your first tattoo: I was 20, it was in 1997.

Your most recent tattoo: It was in 2013.

The artist: Different artists. My first couple of tattoos were done by a chap named Dee at Rudy’s Tattoos in Pretoria. I have one on my back done by Derick at Metal Machines and my sleeves and chest were done by Dave Chaston.

Your inspiration: Unfortunately I fell into that 90s tribal trap but have thankfully been able to do some cover-ups!

Is getting tattoos addictive? Some people seem to think so.  I go through phases of wanting them. I think I’m done… for now.

Do your tattoos have special meaning to you? Not all of them.  The snake on my left arm represents the year of the snake, my birth year.

Which one hurt the most? All of them! The chest is no joke. It’s tender around the nipple. The sleeves cover a lot of tender spots as well, like the inside of the arm up near my armpit and anyone will tell you that having your elbows tattooed is no walk in the park either.

What have you got planned for next? I still haven’t finished the one on my chest. It has been 5 years since I got it! Dave is harassing me to finish it.


Cape Town chefs: Cynthia Rivera //
Owner & Chef in the kitchen at Mulberry & Prince

American-born Cynthia moved to SA in 2016 and opened Mulberry & Prince on Pepper Street in the CBD with her business partner Cornel Mostert. The two met while training at the Culinary Institute of America.

Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Cynthia Rivera owner & chef at Mulberry & Prince
Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Cynthia Rivera owner & chef at Mulberry & Prince

Age of first tattoo: I booked my first tattoo appointment for my 23rd birthday.  My mother isn’t a huge fan of tattoos so I waited out of respect. I was earning my own money by then, so I was just like ‘fuck it’. Plus, my father is tatted up so I figured she will get over it but she hasn’t…sorry Mom!

Most recent tattoo: My elbow… which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I just got a hand-poked portrait of my beautiful Latina queen, my mother!  It’s a reminder that even though we are 7,808 miles away she is always with me. I’m also set to sit down tomorrow with Ivan (@IvanAntonyshevTattoofor a gift so that’s exciting!

Artist: My right shoulder is done by Rachel Hauer(@RachelHauer).The geometric peonies on my left arm were done by John (@johno_tattooer). The rest of my left arm is by Tanya (@ladylucktattooartist) here in Cape Town.  The portrait of my mother was poked by Jenna Bouma (@slowerback). My lady face with the moon is done by Travis (@travisfurton).

Inspiration: Nature. Romanticism. People. Architecture. I’m a huge fan of black work and flowers.

Do you find getting tattoos addictive? For sure. Everyone has their own vice. Whether it be tattoos, shoes or makeup. If it makes you feel good then go for it!

Do you have a favourite? The skull on my shoulder is my favourite because it’s my version of the skull my father has on his shoulder.  My dad has some pretty cool tattoos and that’s actually my #1 inspiration. Major update! The ditch of your arm sucks pretty bad.  Super stoked with the butterfly and I love Tanya but I’m pretty sure I whispered how much I hate her the entire time I sat.

Which one hurt the most? My hand and dagger hurt only because I screwed myself over the night before and drank a little too much.  I’ve learnt my lesson.

Do all of your tattoos have meaning to you? I would say yes, whether it be sentimental or that I just wanted to meet and sit with the artist.

Is it important to connect with your artist? OF COURSE!  I think it is very important to connect with the artist and have an appreciation for their work.  The best tattoos come from a place where both the artist and client are on the same page.  | 12 Pepper Street, Cape Town

Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Cynthia Rivera owner & chef at Mulberry & Prince

Cape Town chefs: Ash Heeger //
Owner & Head Chef in the Kitchen at ASH

Ash Heeger is the chef and owner of ASH restaurant. She creates contemporary food that pushes the boundaries and makes use of only the best seasonal ingredients, quality meat and seafood. There is a focus on cooking over the coals and the food is all about flavour and disguised simplicity. NOTE: ASH restaurant is closing for refurbishments and will re-open late 2018.

Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Ash Heeger_owner & Head Chef in the Kitchen at ASH

Age of first tattoo: 18

Most recent tattoo: About three weeks ago. I tend to get 2 or 3 pieces a month. Two of my most recent pieces, that I got around the same time are firstly finishing off a previous piece on my hand of a wild boar (Manuela) and secondly a new piece of a sacred heart on my upper thigh (Wesley). 

Inspiration: Manuela designed the boar from start to finish, it was inspired by a design I saw hanging in her studio when I was sitting for another tattoo about a year ago. The sacred heart was designed by Wesley. He pretty much has free reign over the design that he puts on me. They all follow a similar colour scheme and aesthetic.

Do you have a favourite? Changes all the time! literally from day to day. The one on my upper arm of my French Bulldog, Mash Potato is one that is always close to my heart.

Do you find getting tattoos addictive? Yes.

Which one hurt the most? Everyone is different, I find my arms very bearable when sitting for a tattoo, but I find my legs are an absolute killer. Friends of mine experience the opposite, so I suppose it’s just a different experience for all. However… I recently had my knee cap tattooed and I have to say, that was a different kettle of fish. I’ve never been so close to calling quits halfway through.

Why do you think so many chefs have tattoos? Chefs are creative beings. Tattoos are a chance to showcase that creativity and personality. We also spend the majority of our lives in a uniform, so being able to cover your body with art is how we get to express ourselves. Another thing to note is that chefs generally aren’t your “vanilla” 9-5, conventional kind of folk. This industry attacks the unconventional. Tattoos generally follow.

Are any of yours related to your career? I’ve got a few food ones. An ice-cream cone, cherries, watermelon, a wishbone, and the wild boar.

Do you have any fun anecdotes about one of your tattoos? Like, did you ever get one drunk or as a dare? Hmmm… I’ve gotten pretty much all of my tattoos whilst extremely hungover. Not ideal- there’s a lot more blood involved. Also, a word of advice, never ever get matching tattoos with your significant other or a mate. It never ends well. Keep it strictly family, trust me.

How important is the connection to your artist? For me, really important. I think for someone who doesn’t get tattooed very often, or only wants a simple script or whatever, that connection isn’t as important. I want to be on the same page as an artist, in terms of style and it’s quite nice to have a bit of banter to go with it. 

Have you had any tattoos done where you’ve given the artist free reign? Pretty much all of my tattoos to be honest. I generally have an idea of what I want, but every artist I’ve spent time with has been so talented and has always had a better idea of design, size and colouring. I’m always happy to hand over to whoever is holding the tattoo gun.

chefs_tattoo-Ash heeger| 81 Church Str

Read our interview with Ash | Visiting ASH Restaurant

Cape Town chefs: Christi Semczyszyn //
Head Chef in the Kitchen at Tjing Tjing Torii

Christi Semczyszyn is the head chef at Tjing Tjing Torii, which is currently undergoing a full renovation. The closure of Dear Me means the space will become one big Tjing Tjing, with different spaces and offerings on each floor. The re-opening is set for July/Aug 2018 so watch this space!

Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Christi Semczyszyn_Head Chef at Tjing Tjing Torii & Dear Me
Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Christi Semczyszyn_Head Chef at Tjing Tjing Torii & Dear Me

Age of first tattoo: 18

Most recent tattoo: Blackwork paisley on the back of my head.

Artist: Chris De Villiers at Good Things (@chrisd3viltattoos).

Inspiration: I got an undercut and thought I needed something pretty to fill the space 🙂

Why do you think so many chefs have tattoos? It’s another way to express our personalities and it’s a job where it’s not frowned upon. I think it’s also got a bit to do with the masochistic nature of it. We’re in a stressful, uncomfortable environment all day, every day, but we love it, just like being tattooed.

Do you have any you regrets? My first one was a star on my stomach. I didn’t really research the artist much and he wasn’t very good, so the lines were all blurry and it was very raised. Then I got pregnant and it really messed it up. I’ll get it covered up one day when I’m done with babies. I don’t really regret any of them though. It was a learning curve and has sentimental value.

Do you have any fun anecdotes about one of your tattoos? Like, did you get one drunk or as a dare? I’ve got a bow on the back of my neck that I got at a fundraiser for prostate cancer. It was in a bar in London and the guy just free handed it by the light of a single lightbulb, while I sat on the couch, after a good few drinks. Not my smartest moment. Still, don’t regret it.

Are any of yours related to your career/food? I’ve got a calf piece which is all very colourful sweeties and cupcakes, by Tamar Thorn.

Have you ever let an artist have free reign?

Not TOTAL free reign, but I don’t like to micromanage the artist. I give some brief detail on what I’m thinking of and maybe a reference pic, but the rest is pretty much up to them. I choose an artist because I like their art, not how well they can recreate something off Pinterest. | 165 Longmarket Street

Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Christi Semczyszyn_Head Chef at Tjing Tjing Torii & Dear Me

Chris Erasmus //
Owner & Head Chef in the kitchen at Foliage Resturant, Franschhoek

Chris Erasmus is a familiar face on the restaurant scene in Franschhoek, having spent many years leading the pass at Pierneef a La Motte. Thereafter he moved to open his own extremely successful restaurant, Foliage. Chris is a champion of foraged, natural ingredients and his menu speaks to this while pushing boundaries with unique flavours and techniques.


Age of first tattoo: 22

Most recent tattoo: 3 months ago.

Artist: Robert Turner – Salty Dog Tattoo Studio. (Facebook)

Inspiration: Thundercats!

Do you have a favourite? I love my night forest on my leg.

Do you find getting tattoos addictive? Very! It’s partly the relief after a 4-hour piece is done…

Which one hurt the most? My butt… rump.

Why do you think so many chefs have tattoos? We like the pain… and we get to express a part that we can’t with food.

Do you have any you regret? Yes, that I didn’t start younger…

Do you have any fun anecdotes about one of your tattoos? Like, did you ever get one drunk or as a dare? I got really tanked one night and Rob stayed over at my house, it was my birthday… I ended up with the human meat cuts tattooed on my back, hence the rump part 🙂 It was supposed to be a Betty Page pin-up…

Mushroom Hunting with Chris Erasmus | Visting Foliage Restaurant | Chefs & Music


Mike //
Senior Chef de Partie in the kitchen at Foliage


Age of first tattoo: 22, on my chest.

Most recent tattoo: Soulless demon girl on my leg.

Artist: I are Thomas at Disciples Ink in Stellenbosch (does all my traditional style tattoos and my main artist I always use is Mark Day at Deadrocker Tattoos in Philadelphia, Cape Town (@markdaytattoos).

Inspiration: People in my life, difficult times and hard lessons learnt in life.

Do you have a favourite? My sleeve and my finger tattoos.

Do you find getting tattoos addictive? Yes, they are very addictive; the only time I’ll stop is when I have no more space left.

Which one hurt the most? Legs, feet and elbow.

Why do you think so many chefs have tattoos? Chefs have so many tattoos ’cause they’re rad. The pain is also a big part of it – shows you what your limits are in terms of testing your body and ability to grit through tough times

Do you have any you regret?  Don’t regret any of them, they all have their own uniqueness.

Estelle Kasner //
Junior Chef De Partie in the kitchen at Foliage


Age of first tattoo: Five years ago.

Most recent tattoo: 4 weeks ago.

Artist: Robert Turner – Salty Dog Tattoo Studio (Facebook).

Inspiration: Fairy tales and Foliage.

Do you have a favourite? All of them.

Do you find getting tattoos addictive? Depends on the day.

Which one hurt the most? The one on my forearm.

Why do you think so many chefs have tattoos? Expression.

Do you have any you regrets?  The first 2 had bad ink.

Do you have any fun anecdotes about one of your tattoos? Like, did you ever get one drunk or as a dare? Nope, just memorable ones.

Cape Town chefs: Glen Foxcroft Williams //
Owner & Head Chef in the kitchen at Foxcroft Restaurant

Glen Williams is a born and bred southern suburbs Capetonian. After he matriculated he went right on to studying part-time at the Institute for Hospitality Education in South Africa, while working full time at the Opal Lounge. He then moved on to La Colombe, where he was to remain for 6 years. Things looked bright for Glen when he was promoted to pastry chef at La Colombe at the tender age of 21, and this move set him on a course that has brought him to where he is today, chef-owner at Foxcroft.

Glen-Foxcroft-Williams Chef

Age of first tattoo: 23

Most recent tattoo: March 2018

Artist: Agnieszka Trojanowska 

Inspiration: My newest tattoo is a fox (after my restaurant and middle name) done at the convention this year by polish artist, Agnieszka TrojanowskaI found her work on Instagram and when I found out she was attending the convention I had to get something by her. I emailed ahead and asked for a fox in her watercolour style and left the rest to her. I didn’t see a design until the day, she had drawn 4 different basic sketches, chose the one that spoke to me and let her get to work. Most of it was freehand. The worst bit of this one was the tips of the ears as they are basically on the inside of my elbow and the artist used a few different colours to shade the area. That said, the tattoo wasn’t bad at all! 

My other tattoo is by Stefan Draak (@die_draak). I had the idea for the whisk in my head for a while, then was inspired by Stefan’s watercolour tattoos. I stumbled across the word Soigné and decided to book the tattoo the next day. I left Stefan with a lot of creative freedom and ended up with a beautiful artwork.

Do you find getting tattoos addictive? Yes and no, I have plenty planned but I’m in no rush to get them all done quickly.

Which one hurt the most? The ink-splash bit near the elbow was rough and the colour was quite bad as it was a last minute addition and went over all the fresh black and grey work.

Why do you think so many chefs have tattoos? I think it originated with chefs generally being slight outcasts but now I feel like it’s just another way of creative expression for people who are generally creative. | High Constantia Centre


Cape Town chefs: Rikku Ó’Donnchü //
Quoin Rock Wines Restaurant Opening Late 2018

Chef Rikku hails from the UK originally but is currently working on a new project in the Winelands, set to open later in the year. Things are kind of under wraps a the moment but what we do know is that the restaurant is going to be set on an 80% self-sustaining premises with solar power, it’s own water supply, own livestock plus own vegetable garden/ herb gardens/greenhouses and mushroom cultures.

The theme of the restaurant will be hidden and there will be a theatrical mystery journey through a maze and the food will follow in these footsteps. Exciting times!

Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Rikku Ó'Donnchü Owner YUZU Kitchen & Bar

Age of first tattoo: 16

Most recent tattooI actually have a new tattoo on my right calf. It’s an old Nordic folk symbol for labyrinth/mystery/ Enigma, interestingly enough, that’s the theme of the new restaurant too and also lends its self to the name of the restaurant (still a secret!).

Artist: My latest one was done in Finland by Jaana Hiltunen. She’s an amazing lady from Helsinki..

Do you find getting tattoos addictive? I did when I was younger, now I really have to know what I want before I get it… that feeling can last for years.

Which one hurt the most? My elbows!

Why do you think so many chefs have tattoos? We’re creative, artists of our trade if you will. Most chefs I know have at least one tattoo, I think it’s because we are artists and in most cases, quite interesting individuals, so we also use body art as a way of expressing that.

Do you have any tattoo regrets? I regret a lot of the tribal stuff I got, but I’ve got plans to ‘fix’ them up.

How do you decide on what artist to work with? I normally meet people with tattoos nowadays who inspire me to seek out a particular artist.

Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Rikku Ó'Donnchü Owner YUZU Kitchen & Bar
Cape Town chefs and their tattoos - Rikku Ó'Donnchü Owner YUZU Kitchen & Bar

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