Let's Talk Chef Shoes, Part One

Categories: Musings
Native shoes_opt.jpg
Lee Klein
Cool, comfy, colorful.
Through the early years of my career in professional kitchens, I wore ankle-high, steel-toed, Velcro-strapped, taupe-colored leather chef shoes made by the esteemed French chefwear company Bragard. They looked like nurse shoes in a straightjacket. Regardless of where I was cooking, I could always count on being ridiculed for having the ugliest damn footwear ever constructed. I couldn't help but note on the website that Bragard no longer sells this model.

For awhile I tried steel-toed clogs, which the old European chefs at the Culinary Institute of America preferred. These were almost as hideous, and just as heavy as the Bragard bricks. After a few years of not dropping any heavy pots or pans upon my feet, nor having knives spear footwards, nor spilling boiling oil on my anchored footsies...I switched to sneakers. Most chefs shun these due to lack of support, but I like that they're light and cool. Same with Crocs, which I also tried, although not in the bright orange color that Mario Batali has made famous. So when Carrie Koscar of of The Foundation Public Relations was recently in town to promote Vancouver-based Native shoes, she offered me (and many others) a pair of the company's just-released-in-Miami shoes to try out in the kitchen. I said sure. Free is free.

Then again, as you can see from the picture, it's probably not the nicest looking of Natives. The design isn't that bad, but jeez, what a color. This particular style is called the Corrado; the name of the color is Loch Ness. Hmmm....The other shoes int the collection have much prettier names, and as seen in the first photo, they are much cooler looking; fantastic colors, too (retail for all lines is about $44). When I told Ms. Koscar that I didn't care for the Corrados as much as the others, she told me of a magazine fashion editor who had just emailed her to say how much she liked the Corrados, and wanted a pair for her toddler son (Natives for kids are shipping in August). "There is a style for everyone," Carrie said.

loch ness_opt.jpg
Lee Klein
I asked her what makes the shoes suitable for kitchen wear. She pointed out that they "mold to your feet, are lightweight, antimicrobial and odor resistant". The Corrado, in particular, "is perfect for the kitchen due to the fact that it is a closed top silhouette -- that way if food/ liquids are spilled, it won't harm the chef." She went on to say that the bottoms of Natives are also slip-proof and completely washable. "After a long day in the kitchen, just throw them into the dishwasher!"

I did a private cooking gig last Saturday and was on my feet, in my Loch Ness Corrados, for ten hours. I liked them for the same reason I like sneakers, although most chefs will insist upon stouter support. And the point about being easy to wash off is true, although even if I had a dishwasher I'm pretty certain my wife would not allow me to put my shoes in them.

"New shoes!," one of the maids said to me when I entered the kitchen. "They're very nice."

"I don't know," I responded, "Do you really like them?"
Suddenly it dawned on me that perhaps I had been too rash in judging the footwear so harshly.

"No," she laughed, "but they look comfortable, and that's whats important."

I smiled and nodded -- partly because what she said is obviously true, and partly because it felt good to be reminded of my glory days as a young chef in ugly shoes.

Monday: The chef shoe fetish continues as we find out what our local culinarians use as footwear when they work in their restaurant kitchens.
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