Known for his positive attitude and keen eye for cuisine on his hit Cooking Channel show Chuck’s Week Off: Mexico and a slew of other hosting gigs on the Food Channel, Chef Chuck Hughes is one of those guys who you just hope succeeds at everything he does. Hailing from Montreal, Canada, Hughes is the chef and co-owner of two renowned restaurants, Garde Manger and Le Bremner. Recently, Hughes collaborated with Vans and Off the Hook to design a shoe ready for kitchen wear. We caught up with Hughes in Montreal before heading to his VIP launch party where we filled up on freshly shucked oysters and crab legs.
You can preorder a pair of Chuck Hughes’ Vans at offthehook.ca/blackcrab
Playboy.com: How did the collaboration with Vans come about?
Hughes: I’m quite possibly the biggest Vans addict on the planet. It’s been a brand I’ve loved since I was 12 years old. When I started to do stuff outside of the kitchen, on every show I did, every tour, every personal outing, I’d be wearing a pair. Basically, it came about with Harry [Drakopoulos] and the rest of the guys from Off the Hook in Montreal. They knew that I love shoes. I’m that guy who asks them to set aside a certain pair so I could pick them up later. It was a chance to do a shoe that wasn’t necessarily pro skater; I see it as more of a lifestyle shoe. It’s kind of wild that you can now have these kinds of opportunities with cooking—20 years ago nobody cared. I worked my whole life in kitchens, never thinking any of this was possible. It’s just so awesome!
Playboy.com: Anyone I know who works in the food industry is going to be pretty psyched about these shoes. Why do you think it took so long to make a trendy kitchen-ready shoe?
Hughes: For us here in Montreal, and for my friends and the kitchen guys that I’ve worked with, Vans seems to be the go-to shoe for our lifestyle for many reasons. For one, they’re really affordable. Some sneakers are a hundred bucks, but you can always find a pair of Vans for fifty bucks. There are always good deals and different styles and they’re just super accessible. They’re a laid-back and comfy shoe that you can afford to get dirty or wash, and it’s easy to get a new pair. I think the brand fits with the kitchen lifestyle. Kitchen stuff is so popular now that there’s this new wave of opportunity for things that are outside of the kitchen industry to creep their way in. With the people that know me, it was so natural. I’m the guy that will go to a wedding in a tuxedo and wear a pair of sick Vans. It’s the iconic shoe that you can find for every occasion and now even one that’s made just for the kitchen!
Playboy.com: Is there much of a difference between The Black Crab and other Vans?
Hughes:The big difference is that The Black Crabs are completely waterproof. They are made of water-repellent materials—that’s the kitchen angle we brought in. The fact that they’re waterproof is pretty good for when you live in Montreal, too! They’re actually waterproof all the way to the top. They’re kind of like a wet suit; the zipper is even the same style you’d see on a wet suit. Also, since cooks wear Birks a lot, we put a cork sole on the bottom so there’s a little bit more support. They are all nonslip and the laces are waxed and they’re a really sleek, everyday/everywhere kind of shoe. I also wanted them to be easy to wash.
In my kitchen at 5:30 we have staff meal, so everybody sits down and has a bite to eat, but we also have nail inspections and we check everyone’s shoes. When you’re feeding the public, you really want to make a shoe for every day, but because I’m a cook have that kitchen aspect too.
Playboy.com: People say that owning a pair of black Vans is a must. Why is that?
Hughes:When we started designing the shoe we had to streamline it. As much as I love Vans for their diversity, I knew that in a kitchen, you’re going to want black shoes. Black shoes are something you can wear with anything, they’re easy to keep clean—that’s really where we went with it. Then we thought about what kind of shoe I can wear day in and day out and not get tired of. Can I put it with anything I want to wear and ultimately keep tidy and be able to brush it clean if needed? But in the beginning we started off with a million colors.
Playboy.com: How much were you involved in the design element?
Hughes: It took two years to come up with the actual design. It was a whole bunch of different people on the project, and obviously I’m not a shoe guy—I don’t make shoes for a living—so I had a lot of guidance from the whole team at Off the Hook and Vans. But it was a real collaboration with a lot of my input. I’m not saying that if I had my own shoe company they’d be all black, though! I’d be like, “Let’s go crazy and do what we want!” But to really have that one shoe, we’ll keep the material a little different. So with the lower one, it’s still waterproof but has a Gore-Tex finish. It’s half rubber, half Gore-Tex and still waterproof. Like the high top, it’s really resistant and that’s the whole vibe of it.
Playboy.com: What’s in your garage? What are you driving these days?
Hughes: A Honda Ruckus, baby! It’s a scooter! It’s the way to go, man!
Playboy.com: What’s the one piece of clothing you can’t live without?
Hughes: [Laughs] Well, I can’t live without my Vans! That is actually one of their logos: “Not without my Vans!” That’s probably the one thing I can’t live without. Otherwise, I would probably say an apron. It’s kind of a safety blanket for me.
Playboy.com: I’m sure for work you have to travel a lot. What do you always bring with you?
Hughes: Hand sanitizer—jugs of it. I’m not a weirdo, but it’s essential! I also make sure I have water and real food; I stick to nuts and fruit. I drink espressos like a maniac, too! A good book is key. I’m pretty low-fi. I try to have a carry-on as much as possible, so that’s probably it. But seriously, a disinfectant spray is a must. The minute I walk into a hotel I do all the handles of everything, the remote… Oh, and Vans!
Playboy.com: What’s the best advice that you’ve been given?
Hughes: The best piece of advice I was ever given was from a guy who has been a big part of my life. He always said, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” That’s the best one! People say a lot of shit that is not always true, but this one is guaranteed, no matter what you face!