The restaurant life has a tendency to get under your skin

Click here for a slideshow of some of the St. Louis area's best kitchen tats.

Work in a restaurant, and you're bound to get scarred.

Sharp knives, sizzling sauté pans, boiling oil, arms overloaded with fragile plates and pointed silverware: The opportunities for the kinds of cuts and burns that mark you for life are innumerable. And those are just the visible injuries.

Long hours spent doing the same tedious task again and again in hot, cramped kitchens break down bone and muscle, tendon and joint. The humiliation of being chewed out in front of your coworkers for a misfired entrée and the separation from the weekends and the holidays that civilians can spend with loved ones break down mind and soul.

The failure of a restaurant can break everything — physical, emotional, financial — all at once.

To succeed in this industry, you need an edge. You can't simply tolerate pain, you have to revel in it — you have to turn it into something you own. For some that might be manic creative energy or an addiction to the adrenaline rush; for others a black sense of humor or a propensity to drink hard and pursue one-night-stands after work.

For many, it's a tattoo.

But this is just surface analysis. No single explanation could suffice for each chef, cook, server and restaurateur featured in Jennifer Silverberg's photographs. Some bear ink that predates their careers in the kitchen. Others display their passion for the culinary arts and those who inspired them to cook: salt and pepper shakers, a garden, a knife. A few defy words entirely.

Here are their scars. Here are their stories.
— Ian Froeb