Looking for the perfect (or just satisfactory) chef shoe is a lot like guitar shopping. I’m a veteran guitarist, not a chef, but when I read forums and reviews where chefs talk about their shoes, it feels very familiar.
What must I think about when making an instrument purchase decision?: My aesthetic tastes, my budget (usually pretty meager), the style of music I play, my self image, my physical abilities and structure, my musical abilities, and the most important: What will my bandmates think?
Fellow musicians and chefs alike are chomping at the bit to give you their very best advice, but remember: Their advice is based on their personal experiences. On one hand, this connection to the real world – as opposed to marketing hype – is what makes anecdotes so valuable, but it’s important to match these subjective opinions and stories to your own story.
When I read a forum post or product review about a guitar (or lately, a ukulele), I look for conditions that resonate with my own. Then I know there’s a better chance of identifying a personal value or product benefit that would be advantageous to me as well.
I’m reluctant to purchase an instrument sight-unseen and strings-untouched. I have purchased on eBay and Amazon, and it’s a real crapshoot – sometimes it works out, sometimes not. So I prefer to personally audition and examine prospective instruments.
You’ll probably want to do the same thing with chef shoes. The most important principle is that your feet are unique. You’re the only person in the entire world with your shape, muscles and bones. You’ll increase the chances of finding a good shoe for you if you tour shoe stores and check out a variety of brands and models.
When considering a new pair, you have to trust your body’s signals. How do you feel? Stand in them. Walk around. Walk fast. Stop suddenly. Take them off, and then put them back on again. You’re going to be in these shoes 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. They need to be comfortable so you’re not in pain or distracted. And they need to help keep you safe.
You’ll probably want to consider the following in your chef shoe quest:
- Requirements and rules of your workplace
- Available budget
- The physical condition of your feet
- Your body’s physical condition
- Your fashion taste
- The functional needs and demands of your work environment
When I was researching this topic, I ran across some chef stories at ChefTalk.com, an excellent forum for professional chefs. I learned that accidents from heavy or sharp objects falling on your feet are a legitimate concern. A couple of members talked about knives and cleavers doing some real damage. That’s why some more cautious chefs and kitchen workers even buy steel-toed shoes.
Other chefs talked about their unique needs, such as being “6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing at somewhere around 300”; or a particularly slippery work environment. Sometimes there’s a dress code that includes shoes, but one chef got out of it by having his podiatrist write a note to the restaurant. Another chef regularly got food spilled on his shoes, and so he valued shoes that had few crevices and a smooth, easily wiped surface. Then there’s the chef who spilled boiling water on his feet, and boy was he glad he was wearing clogs.
There’s an ongoing debate in the chef community about clogs, and legitimate reasons for both sides of the conversation. For example, one says they’re comfortable and another disagrees. Who’s right? Of course they both are, because their experiences are uniquely theirs and cannot be generalized to a rule that applies to all chefs.
So remember. Everybody’s needs are different. We all have different values. Start online in forums and product reviews. When you research, look for specific things in the stories that are similar to your own situation. Then put the shoes physically to the test just like I audition guitars (sometimes for months) until you find the best for you in terms of physical feel and reasonable needs and wants.
Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of shoe brands mentioned by professional chefs in their discussions and recommendations. Prices range from $20 to $150 and up. Most chefs seem pretty satisfied with the $50-$100 range.
Once you decide what you want, consider shopping right here in the Aprons and Smocks Shoe Department.