Unless your favourite chef is a tap-dancing farmer from 13th century Amsterdam, you probably wouldn’t expect them to wear clogs. Yet a surprising number of stove-jockeys swear by the outdated form of footwear.
But why would someone who spends 16 hours a day on their feet in a confined space full of boiling liquids, searing-hot fats and sharp objects, choose to wear open-backed shoes?
We asked our clog-wearing chefs about their favourite footwear in the kitchen and we got a variety of responses. From serious injuries and safety concerns to more light-hearted musings on the science behind choosing the perfect chef’s shoe, there’s always a battle going on between safety, comfort and style.
Steve Nguyen, Chôm Chôm
Clogs are what I must work in: they’re clunky, ugly and I wouldn’t be caught dead in them outside of work, but they are so incredibly necessary in this business. Out of all the professions, right behind construction workers and nurses, having the right pair of work shoes can make or break your day.
We chefs have a love/hate relationship with our work shoes and have strict requirements. They need to be non-slip to navigate the constant wet and oily floors. They need to be waterproof unless you like walking home in wet socks. They need to be sturdy enough to provide a protective barrier from falling knives. But above all else, they need to be comfy as hell. If you’re going to be on your feet all day, you want to feel like you’re standing in a ball pit full of marshmallows.
Before coming to Hong Kong, I forgot to bring along my work shoes. Out of desperation, I bought a pair of inexpensive locally made clogs that claimed to be non-slip, but I quickly found out were not. The next day I went out and bought a proper pair of Birkenstock chef clogs. I love them, but I also hate them.
Bao La, Le Garçon Saigon
I wear clogs, I have the Profi Birki from Birkenstock. Obviously, it’s very important to wear non-slip shoes in the kitchen. Being on your feet 12-14 hours a day you need something comfortable. I find boots too heavy and bulky, and the cushioning is not great on the soles of your feet. Clogs are a lot lighter to walk in. Also, boots and shoes tend not to be as waterproof and clogs are made from waterproof materials that are more durable and long-lasting. My clogs must be at least two years old and they’re still going strong which I think is pretty good for the amount of wear they get from what we go through in the kitchen. Slipping your feet in and out of the clogs and not having to deal with dirty shoelaces is a big plus also.
Palash Mitra, New Punjab Club
We wear clogs in the kitchen because they’re easy to kick off when needed. I wear a pair with steel toes that are anti-slip and have air-cushioned soles. They may not be pretty, but they are entirely necessary when you are on your feet for as long as chefs are!
Safia Osman, The Bakery
I had a serious kitchen injury about 10 years ago that changed my life forever as a result of which I now suffer from sciatica, a constant lower back pain. Because of the injury, I switched from wearing crocs to sneakers and Birkenstock clogs. I stand for 10 or more hours a day, so I usually rotate between three pairs of everyday footwear. This may seem strange but for my feet and my lower back, it totally works.
I do get flare-ups every now and then, which is excruciating, but overall, I think with the help of constant massages, stretching and rotating between sneakers and Birkenstock clogs, I’m able to continue what I love to do. It is a labour of love for sure.
Hungry for some more insights from the minds of our chefs? Take a look at Chef Bao La’s recipe for Vietnamese betel leaf beef, bo la lot and then check out Chef Jad Youssef’s guide to Lebanese ingredients.