Tattoos. Rock star status. Late nights partying hard. Outlaw associations. It shouldn't be surprising that many chefs also have a passion for their rides. For the adrenaline junkie there's speed; for the craftsman there's the art of a fine machine; and for the busy, adventurous, and overworked chefs, there's the practicality of a mode of transport that enables them to get around, explore, and escape.
"I’ve been riding Harleys since 1981, so it goes beyond a mode of transportation," says chef John Stage of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. "It has always been a lifestyle to me."
He's not alone. Plenty of other chefs have storied passions for their rides that can be traced to childhood. For many, there's that early association and interest in automobiles for their speed and adrenaline. "When I was 14," chef Grant Achatz recounts in Life, On the Line, released this year, "my dad asked me what kind of car I wanted when I turned 16. He loved cars, and he wanted me to love them, too. 'A fast one,' I said."
That sense of excitement and danger fits squarely within the lifestyles that many associate with working in professional kitchens. "Like many chefs, I'm an adrenaline junkie," admits chef Mike Lata of FIG in Charleston, S.C. "I need to find release and riding my bikes — be it on the racetrack or in the mountains — gives me that."
Look at the accompanying photos of chefs with their favorite rides and that connection with speed, and of being a badass, an outlaw, is clear. Some photos make you think they had to have even been professionally shot. (Seriously, how cool is Hubert Keller?) You've seen that same spark in some chefs' eyes when they've had the chance to show off on TV — Alton Brown on Feasting on Asphalt, Anthony Bourdain when he borrowed that '74 Camaro for an episode of No Reservations.
With that iconoclasm and recognition comes the risk of the whole "bad-boy chef with a badass car" being "too much." And with that, for those chefs whose lives are lead particularly out loud, comes the risk of the rides being ripped off. Guy Fieri's bright-yellow Lamborghini was dramatically stolen from a San Francisco car dealership earlier this year (he replaced it with a yellow Chevrolet Camaro, by the way).
At left, Donatella Arpaia with her husband Allan Stewart. Right, Johnny Iuzzini. (Photos courtesy Donatella Arpaia and Kenji Takigami)
But just as often, these associations aren't as expected. Did you know Donatella Arpaia has a 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder? "I arranged to borrow this car for a day as a gift to a longtime loyal employee so they could drive it," says the chef. "As soon as I got behind the wheel, it was love at first sight. I could not describe the complete unexpected thrill that came over me. I felt that I'd arrived."
And there are less thrilling, if still important associations chefs have with their automobiles. "I got my first street bike at 17, a little 400 cc Honda CB-1," says chef Johnny Iuzzini, co-host of Top Chef Just Desserts, and most recently executive pastry chef at Jean Georges in New York City. "I love my bike because it gives me time alone in my head. I can't talk to anyone, no email, text, etc. It gives me time to think, to clear my head, to focus, to reflect and to just be alone."
Then there's the bond between chefs, their automobiles, and family members, often with fathers and sons. For instance, chef Scott Crawford of The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary, N.C., whose 2008 Harley-Davidson Fatboy arrived the day his son was born. "He has been in the garage with me through a lot of the customizing," says Crawford. "He has his own set of tools and copies everything I do. This is why this particular bike is so important to me. I will never sell it. Instead, I will pass it down to him."
Similarly, while the passage in Achatz's book about restoring a 1970 Pontiac GTO with his father kicks off by explaining his desire for a fast car, the rest of it tells a different story: "My dad knew that this would be a fantastic life lesson on organization, hard work, and persistence. You want a great car? Build one.... It was a lot like organizing a kitchen."