Garlic, anchovies, cilantro: Why I got my tattoo, what it means, and how it went
As soon as I’d finished taping the third season of “MasterChef” last year, I immediately knew I wanted to commemorate the whole experience with a tattoo. I recently unveiled a photo of my tattoo to the public via my Twitter and Facebook page, and many fans loved it, a few hated it, some wondered why I got such a huge tattoo for it being my first.
The truth is, it is not my first tattoo. My first tattoo was a Chinese character meaning “luck” which my good friend in high school paid for on my eighteenth birthday. Not because he wanted to give me something special, mind you, but because he thought it’d be worth paying $60 to see me cry out of pain. Unfortunately for him, I was smiling through most of it and even said I kind of liked the pain. In the end, he was left $60 lighter in the pocket and glumly disappointed by my non-tears.
While that tattoo was my first, it was indeed small (about the size of a half dollar). Fifteen years had passed since I was initiated into the inked club, and there were occasions when I wanted to get additional tattoos. My cousin and I were thinking of getting our last names tattooed on us in a Chinese character. But there really wasn’t anything outstanding or outlandish enough in my life for me to go get another one. I really didn’t think I’d be going under the needle ever again.
And then the show happened. And I became the MasterChef in the U.S. For 2012. And to be honest, even if I hadn’t taken home the title, I’d probably still get a tattoo simply because it was a life-changing experience. Tattoos, I believe, are not to be taken lightly. They’re permanent, for one. So it better not be something you’ll regret ten years down the road when your buddy asks you, “What’s the story behind the Hello Kitty on your bicep?” (Not to knock Hello Kitty—I think she’s cute. I just wouldn’t get her tattooed on me.)
So, yes, “MasterChef” was a life-changer. And as we wrapped filming, in the last couple of days we were all in L.A. Together, I was bouncing ideas off the others, asking whether: (a) I should get a tattoo, and (b) what should it even be of? Stacey, of course, gave me a resounding YES. And that it should be of the MC logo. (She ended up getting this tattoo herself.) Felix and Cindy said yes. Some said no way. And then there were two that said yes, but not of the logo. Which made me think and eventually agree.
So what should I get? After much thought, I decided to get a tattoo of a few of my favorite ingredients: garlic, anchovies (which represent fish sauce), and cilantro. In addition to being some of my favorite things to eat and with which to cook, they were food items I used quite frequently during the many MC challenges and thus served me well.
I also love the aesthetics of Japanese art and so knew I wanted these three key ingredients flowing together in some sort of Japanese print. How it would look exactly and how it would flow together would be left up to the artist because I, for one, had not a clue.
Since this was going to be permanent, I wanted to find a tattoo artist who was highly skilled with Japanese art. I considered flying to L.A. (Where there is a larger Japanese population than in Houston) to get it done. I even thought about waiting until my Japan trip to get it done overseas by a true Japanese artist. But everyone told me what I was thinking of getting would take multiple sessions, and in the end, I simply did not find it practical to take multiple trips on a plane to get a tattoo—it was already going to be expensive; I didn’t need to add several hundred bucks on top of that.
With the help of a few people I trust, I went from reputable studio to studio in Houston inquiring about the artists whom I’d heard could do Japanese art. I ended up choosing an artist named Tracy from Scorpion Studios in Houston. He was referred to me by John’s coworker, and after perusing his portfolio, my friend agreed he would be good for the job. As with most superb artists, Tracy was booked for months in advance (which I took as a good sign), and I had to write this strange email to him explaining to him that I was a contestant on a TV show and wanted to get my tattoo done before the series ended on TV, and that I wanted him to incorporate garlic, anchovies, and cilantro into a Japanese print.
Sure enough, it was the strangest request he’s had in a while, but being the amazing artist that he is, he came up with this tattoo which he freehanded on my back.
It is much larger than I’d originally wanted or anticipated, taking up a good portion of my lower right backside (instead of the 4”x6” I asked for). But Tracy said for the details and coloring I wanted, the tattoo would only look good if it was much larger. And so I acquiesced, figuring that I should leave the artist to his devices. After all, I know how irritating it can be to have someone come into my kitchen and telling me how to chop the onion.
“You pick the artist according to his skills and what you’ve seen of his work, and then you just have to let the artist create,” John told me. And this is true. And so that’s what I did.
I know I can’t see my tattoo, but I’ve been told by many people that it’s skillfully done and very unique. I guess even if it was terrible, it’s on a place on my body that is easily hidden and, being blind, I’d never see it anyway. (!) But I’m extremely happy with it. I have to give Tracy props for being able to take three food ingredients and working them into a harmonious flow all the while imposing a Japanese print look to it. On top of this, the art would have to look good with the curvature of a backside. Let’s just say the man knew what he was doing.
Many wonder if it hurt. To be honest, there were some parts that were more uncomfortable (e.g. When the needle passed over my spine or ribs or if he was doing some shading and had to go over a certain spot time and time again). My skin definitely felt tender for days after a session, and the aftermath hurts more than the actual needle time. But for the most part, it was not bad at all, just like how I’d remembered it when I got my first. In fact (and I know I’m weird), I kind of liked the buzzing pain sometimes. Call me a masochist—I survived “MasterChef” after all. The tattoo was supposed to take three sessions but because (in Tracy’s words) “I took that shit pretty good,” he was able to finish the entire thing in only two sessions of about 2.5 hours each. Because I was so still and silent, he’d kept asking me if I was okay or about to pass out. But I was fine. In fact, I was either dozing off or reading a novel in Braille.
I will likely get another tattoo after I publish my memoir a year or two from now. That will be another momentous occasion in my life that I will want to capture in ink. I don’t know what I’d want yet, but I’m thinking some sort of literary quote in an aesthetically pleasing font. What do you think? Any suggestions? DO you have any tattoos? What are they of, and what are the significances?