Black Crab SK8 Hi Reissue Zip LX

Chuck Hughes cooks up some Vans sneakers

We speak to the celebrity chef about Black Crab, the shoe he designed with local street wear boutique Off the Hook.


Chuck Hughes and a pair of Black Crabs

“I’ve been blessed — I’m living the dream.”

If you’re familiar with Chuck Hughes, that statement should make total sense. Running two successful Montreal restaurants (Garde Manger and le Bremner), starring in award-winning TV shows on the Canadian Food Network and U.S. Cooking Channel and being an Iron Chef America champ would be enough for most people. And while Hughes is immensely grateful and humble about all that, he’s ecstatic over the latest development in his career, one that’s only tangentially tied to food and cooking: Black Crab, a Vans shoe that he co-created with the crew at local street wear boutique Off the Hook, will be available in stores on March 22.

“Vans has been my shoe forever, I’ve always worn them,” Hughes says. “Even though I’m 37, I’m still a Vans freak. I’m like a 12-year-old when it comes to this brand.”

Black Crab Authentic LX
Black Crab Authentic LX

With the intent of designing a new, practical product that represented an element of local culture that was a little outside of their comfort zone, Off the Hook approached Hughes and proposed collaborating on a Vans shoe, an overture usually reserved for pro skateboarders.

“It’s a dream come true for me – it’s probably the highlight of my life, to be honest,” Hughes says. “It’s one of those things you never thought would be possible and you kind of dream of as a kid growing up skateboarding.”

The goal was to offer a stylish, safe, comfortable and clean alternative to what tends to pass for kitchen footwear. Hughes explains that even the most standard, traditional kitchen shoe is far from perfect.

“A lot of people in the cooking world, myself included, typically wear a Birkenstocks clog, which is safe and super comfortable. Birkenstock soles are some of the best in the world, but it’s not the most flattering shoe and it’s kind of open-ended at the back. Pretty much every shoe out there is lacking in something when you’re working in the kitchen.”

Both the low and high-top variations of Black Crab (Authentic LX, $90, and SK8 Hi Reissue Zip LX, $150), named after Hughes’s signature crustacean doodle, are completely waterproof, with plastic-coated zippers, waxed laces and lightweight fabric similar to that of a wetsuit. Taking inspiration from Birkenstock, a cork insole sits atop the the non-slip waffle outsole, and the water-repellent fabric fights off all manner of kitchen spills. Occupational grime was one of the reasons for the all-black silhouette approach, but so was style.

Black Crab SK8 Hi Reissue Zip LX
Black Crab SK8 Hi Reissue Zip LX

“It’s a bit like cooking — you need to have restraint with the ingredients,” Hughes says, explaining that when the design process began, there were eight colours and 22 zipper styles on the table. “It was important to me to keep it reined in. So if I wanna wear a pink jumpsuit, I know that these shoes are gonna work. If I wanna go to a wedding and wear a tuxedo with a pair of slick Vans, I can do that as well. If I need to jump into the kitchen, this is an upgrade from regular Vans so I know that will work, too.”

Hughes stresses that while style is secondary in the kitchen, cleanliness is paramount, so he’s happily providing Black Crab shoes to all of his staff. As for the sneaker-buying public, it’s safe to say that Hughes embodies the popular appeal that his trade has gained in recent years, making the idea of a lifestyle shoe with a chef’s name attached totally marketable.

“Food and cooking and chefs, whether it’s a good or a bad thing, are getting a lot more popular and people are more and more aware of that culture,” he says, “but on another level, this is a celebration of Vans, of Montreal and what’s going on in the city, through my eyes.” ■

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