It used to be that only athletes got their own signature sneakers. Then, rappers and other artists started getting in on the action (Swizz Beatz is even a Creative Director at Reebok these days). But a chef-driven shoe? You’re not alone if you’re wondering if the world is ready to cop kicks based on a dude’s knife skills.
Chuck Hughes—the Canadian chef with a pair of Food Network shows (Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck’s Week Off) and restaurants (Garde Manger, Le Bremner) to his name—is very aware of this reluctance. So he teamed up with Vans and Montreal indie retailer Off The Hook to create a shoe that is not only “cool,” but also an improvement on the current options for kitchen-friendly footwear.
Just as Vans is ingrained in skate culture and surf culture, it fits the cooking lifestyle.
As it turns out, the connection between Vans and cooking is less random than it might appear to industry outsiders. According to Hughes, Vans has always been popular in kitchens due to its punk aesthetic and reasonable price point.
“Being a cook my whole life, I couldn’t afford shoes really, so Vans were a great option,” he says. “Just as it’s ingrained in skate culture and surf culture, it fits the cooking lifestyle.”
A good kitchen shoe must support your back, assure your tread, and protect your feet. In recent years, the most popular options have been non-slip clogs and Crocs. Mario Batali has his own branded line of Crocs intended for kitchen use, but with the exception of Batali himself, few would feel comfortable wearing them outside of work. Hughes wanted to keep the functionality while adding some style to the equation—“the ultimate kitchen shoe that doesn’t look therapeutic,” as he puts it.
The result of the collaboration is the new “Black Crab Pack,” which features two all-black silhouettes—a Vans SK8-Hi Reissue Zip LX and an Authentic LX—that have been customized to fit an environment full of oil slicks, spilled boiling liquids, and falling knives. The materials are completely water-resistant, including the waxed laces. Hughes claims the shoes can be immersed in liquid up to the cuff without the foot getting wet.
The chef says he previously wore Birkenstocks in the kitchen, so he borrowed some elements from the traditional slip-on clog for this project. Like Birkenstocks, the soles of the Black Crabs are non-slip and the foot bed is padded with lightweight, back-saving cork. The high-top model has a “wet suit” zipper in the back, allowing it to be slipped off and on easily.
“I’m a size 13. It’s important that you’re wearing something lightweight or you will suffer,” he says.
The color and design were equally important. Gone are the days of French-style kitchens where everyone wears white—the modern cook’s uniform is increasingly fluid, with baseball caps and graphic-laden t-shirts infiltrating the line. For Hughes, the appearance of a kitchen staff is an under-appreciated component of a restaurant.
“I like my guys in the kitchen to have a clean appearance,” he says. “It’s a pretty big deal to be able to touch people’s food.”
To help achieve this look, the shoes come in a neutral black that can be easily washed, before or after a shift. Ultimately, the idea is to provide the cook with a sneaker option that a can be worn both in the kitchen or on a day off.
If it means fewer kitchen workers rocking garish Crocs around the city, we’re all for it.
The “Black Crab” will be available at Off The Hook and online March 22nd. High tops: $150; lows: $90.
Related: The Best Shoes to Wear for Drinking