Walk into any restaurant in Portland, and it’s likely that the cook preparing your entree or the server pouring your glass of wine will have some kind of body art – a chef’s knife tattooed on an arm, or some mythical Japanese creature peeking out from a sleeve or pant leg. The older they are, the more likely they are to be covered in tatts to the point where it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins.

Why? There are lots of theories. Anthony Bourdain’s portrayal of the restaurant-as-pirate ship in the book “Kitchen Confidential” prompted a lot of line cooks to buff up their bad-boy images. The cooks in his first kitchen, Bourdain wrote, “dressed like pirates,” from their “gore-covered aprons” and “gold hoop earrings” to their “rings of scrimshaw and ivory” and – of course – tattoos.”

Josh Craigue, the head chef at Salvage BBQ, says that until 10 years ago, kitchen work was “an outsider career. You could show up looking like whatever, and they don’t really care as long as you could work long hours and do the job and really cared about it. Anything goes, as long as the ship keeps running.”

Some people gravitate toward restaurant work because they know that sporting a scary-looking skull tattoo on their chest is OK if they’re standing over a sauté pan. At a desk in a fancy office? Not so much.

“Even the past decade, really, it’s become more socially acceptable everywhere, but it’s always been a little bit more accepted here in this environment,” Dustin Schockley, a sous chef at Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room, said. “You get a bunch of pirate guys together who are putting out great food and working really hard, and self expression can become important.”

No matter the motivation, the tattoos in Maine’s restaurant kitchens are fun to look at. Even more fascinating are the stories behind them. Here are a few:

SHELBY DRABMAN, 23, host/server at Duckfat

Tattoo: Conehead skull down her upper back.

When and where she got it: Three years ago, from a friend who was an apprentice tattoo artist.

Why a Conehead? “I grew up with the Coneheads and Saturday Night Live culture in general, and I thought it would be a really funny tattoo to have. It’s got a butterfly on the cone because Connie Conehead got a tattoo in the movie. It’s kind of scary and kind of funny. I’ve made a couple of kids cry. I’ll wear a backless shirt, and a baby is behind me in line and will point at my back and start crying hysterically. Or their sci-fi dad will be, like, ‘Oh, sweet! Coneheads!’ ”

Any tattoo regret? “No, I’ve only got two. I don’t see it that often, but every time I see it, I’m really happy it’s there.”

My next tattoo will be: A Lone Ranger tattoo with a Notorious B.I.G. stamp.

KIRSTEN MCGURN, 24, server at Duckfat

Tattoo: Scooby Doo and Shaggy, surrounded by the dragon from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” Alice in Wonderland and Max from “Where the Wild Things Are.” (She has 15 tattoos total.)

When and where she got it: About three years ago at Off the Map Tattoo in Easthampton, Mass.

Why Scooby Doo? “I love Scooby Doo. The first couple of seasons are my favorite. I covered the whole arm with things that I’ve loved since I was a kid. Sometimes I get Scooby Doobie Doo’d at. Little kids really like it.”

NORM LEADBETTER, 37, line cook at Duckfat

Tattoo: The burning of the Royal Tar, a passenger steamship that sank in 1836 with a circus on board. It’s his only tattoo, and it’s unfinished. “They made a children’s book about it that’s a lot nicer than the actual story. When it’s finished, it will have the boat burning in the background, with all the animals in the water thrashing about.”

When and where he got it: Four years ago at Blndsght Tattoo in Portland.

Why the Royal Tar? “I’m from Penobscot Bay area, and (the accident) took place off of Vinalhaven, where I used to live, and I wanted something that kind of reminds me of home.”

Any tattoo regret? “No, I want to keep going.”

My next tattoo will be: “Probably something celestial with stars, supernovas, nebulas and whatnot.”

MIKE SMITH, 31, server/chef at Duckfat

Tattoo: He has 10. The newest is a black-and-white bull skull on his right arm.

When and where he got it: Around 2008 in Boston. “I used to work at a restaurant called Toro in Boston, and there was a guy who tattoos a lot of chefs down there named Chad Chesko. He does awesome black work.”

Why a bull skull? “We had a bull that we got from this farmer up in Maine. I butchered it and he cleaned the skull out for us, so that was the basis for the tattoo.”

Any tattoo regret? “If you have tattoo regret, then you probably shouldn’t have gotten a tattoo.”

My next tattoo will be: “I’m probably going to keep getting this finished. I want to be covered in tattoos by the time I die. ”

ASHLEY SHANE, 29, general manager at Duckfat

Tattoo: Octopus, one of three tattoos.

When and where she got it: Finished in March by Tsunami Tattoo.

Why an octopus? “Octopus are just super fascinating creatures – really smart. Lots of people say I like them so much because they can multi-task with eight hands, as I like to do.”

My next tattoo will be: “A whale coming up my side, and I’ll have a whale tail coming out on my tramp stamp (slang for a tattoo a woman has on her lower back). It’s humorous and it will also complete my ocean, having an octopus at the bottom and a whale at the top.”

KELLY NELSON, 29, server at Piccolo

Tattoo: Giant squid and at least six others.

When and where she got it: From a friend in training who now works at Hallowed Ground Bodyart Studio in Portland. It took 60 hours of work over five years.

Why a squid? “I’ve always been a cephalopod enthusiast. I did go to school for marine biology for a time. It ended up being more of a passion as opposed to a career path, but the idea behind the particular illustration was 1800s-wood-block-mythical-creature-meets- anatomically-correct. This is an Architeuthis, it’s a giant squid. The Architeuthis, when I was younger, was still extremely unknown. No one had even gotten a photo, let alone a video of its natural habitat. You got bits and pieces of it floating up on shore, but never that tangible specimen. I found it fascinating that a creature with multiple tentacles and a beak could be down in the depths.”

Any tattoo regret? “My first one, I would definitely say I wish the tattoo artist was better. I don’t regret the tattoo, per se, I just regret the execution. It’s a Cheshire cat..”

My next tattoo will be: “I have an octopus that I’m working on right now. I think flora and fauna work really well on women, when they’re done right. It’s more seamless, and I think a big reason why my tattoo attracts people is because of the flow over the arm and the fluidity.”

BRYAN DAME, 38, executive chef at Gather in Yarmouth

Tattoo: Garlic, carrots and other vegetables. He has three other tattoos.

When and where he got it: Two weeks ago at Hallowed Ground Bodyart Studio in Portland.

Why vegetables? “When I was a real little kid, in suburban Rhode Island, my old Italian grandfather used the vacant lot next door to have a community garden. I basically grew up going after school to be babysat by my grandparents, watching “Sesame Street” and Julia Child. My grandfather would come home from the factory, and we’d spend an hour or two in the garden before making dinner. (He grew) vegetables that he’d put up in the root cellar, and my grandmother would pickle and preserve things.”

Any tattoo regret? “My only regret, I suppose, would be that my little piggy is a little lower on my arm than I wished it would be. When I had that done, I was wearing longer jackets and I kind of transitioned to shorter-sleeved jackets.”

My next tattoo will be: Asparagus and mushrooms to round out the vegetable tattoo; after that, a tattoo designed from an old photo of a beautiful rooster he used to own.

NIC SAINDON, 34, head chef at Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room

Tattoo: An alien scene that has taken more than 60 hours to tattoo. “There are two small alien fetuses being torn apart by a bigger mass of aliens. ” When and where he got it: Saindon started it seven years ago, and every year on his birthday extends the image at Hallowed Ground Bodyart Studio in Portland. He plans to add the interior of a spaceship, and pod ships invading Earth. He estimates that he’ll be 40 before the tattoo is finished.

Why aliens? “It just came to me: the struggle you always go through and how you’re always looked down on, trying to grow up. Really, people are just trying to help you. While the older side is trying to teach you something, the younger side is seeing it as ‘You’re just trying to stop me.’ And in the end, you get stronger. You get better.”

My next tattoo will be: “It’s going to be a Middle Earth thing – a small village at the bottom of my back that goes all the way up into a huge castle. You’ll see an entire battle between creatures like werewolves, vampires.”

DUSTIN SCHOCKLEY, 31, sous chef at Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room

Tattoo: Insignia of the Sea Fox, the submarine his grandfather served on in World War II, intertwined with his grandmother’s favorite flowers. Schockley has about 20 tattoos altogether.

When and where he got it: On his 21st birthday at Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland

Why a Navy sub? “Everyone in my family has been in the military and in the Navy, so I have a lot to commemorate. I grew up with a lot of stories.” Schockley’s grandfather died before the tattoo was finished. “My grandmother saw it before she passed away. She loved it and also hated it. She got to see it the afternoon it was finished. She saw my arm, said how beautiful it was, and then smacked me. On a fresh tattoo.” Ouch.

Any tattoo regret? “No, I think all of them are quite fitting. They remind me of a time and place in my life that I might not be in right now, but it’s worth remembering the story.”

My next tattoo will be: “I’m getting my wedding band tattooed.”

DAN HEBEIN, 27, cook at Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room

Tattoo: Two children holding eight floating red balloons, based on the song “99 luftballons” by Nena. He has five tattoos total.

When and where he got it: He’s still working on it at Lucky’s Tattoo in Portland.

Why red balloons? “It’s a great anti-war song. A band I like called the 7 Seconds back in the early ’80s did a great cover of it. By the time it’s done, I’ll have 99 red balloons floating up my leg.”

Any tattoo regret? “No. I like all my tattoos.”

My next tattoo will be: “I’m thinking about getting a fiddlehead up my arm. I have a tattoo that represents every state I’ve lived in, so I think that would be good for Maine.”

CHELSEA MASON, 26, line cook at Central Provisions

Tattoo: A large tree in autumn, the leaves changing color. She has five other tattoos, including a mermaid zombie.

When and where she got it: At age 22 at Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland.

Why a tree? “Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the weather, I love the foliage, and I really just wanted to represent that on myself through beautiful artwork.”

Any tattoo regret? “There are some that are better than others, but for the most part when I got them I got them for a reason, and they’re there for the rest of my life, so there’s no point regretting them.”

My next tattoo will be: “One that represents a bit of Maine with a picture of my camp in it. My camp is like my sanctuary, and it’s a very beautiful place. It’s in Byron.”

SARAH GABRIELSON, 20, line cook at Central Provisions

Tattoo: The Big Indian on Route 1 in Freeport. Her only other tattoo is an outline of the state of Maine on her side.

When and where she got it: A year ago from Sanctuary Tattoo in Portland.

Why the Big Indian? “That’s outside of the restaurant that I used to cook at. Instead of the staff and shield, I replaced it with a sauté pan and chef’s knife. I worked there for almost five years, and the people are like my family. I want to pay homage to them as well as show where I started cooking. I grew up five minutes away from the statue, so wherever I go, it will remind me of home.”

My next tattoo will be: “I’m only 20 years old so I have a long time to figure it out. ”

JOSH CRAIGUE, 35, head chef at Salvage BBQ

Tattoo: NaCl, the symbol for sodium chloride – table salt. He has at least 10 other tattoos.

When and where he got it: A year and a half ago at an out-of-town shop. The artist who did it is now at Hallowed Ground Bodyart Studio in Portland.

Why salt? “I was doing a lot of charcuterie at Local 188, so I was always trying to find salt, using it all day. It’s the most important ingredient in a chef’s handbook. A knife and salt, that’s all you need.”

Any tattoo regret? “No regrets. It’s like regretting things you’ve done in your life. It’s all gotten me to where I am now. That’s the way I see it. There’s a couple that could have been done a little better, but I still appreciate them. It reminds me of a certain time. You can’t regret things. It’s just a pathway to misery.”

My next tattoo will be: A giant lion and tiger down each shin.