Sneakerheads in the kitchen

Updated: Oct 21, 2019, 08:41 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Cheffing and sneaker collecting go hand-in-hand, pointing to a sub-culture that sits somewhere between comfort, practicality and style

Pallavi Jayswal - chef and co-founder, Uno Mas - Tapas. Bar Kitchen Makes most purchases online. Pic/Atul Kamble
Pallavi Jayswal - chef and co-founder, Uno Mas - Tapas. Bar Kitchen Makes most purchases online. Pic/Atul Kamble

British chef Gordon Ramsay gets his shoes customised. He has no choice. He wears size 15. While the rest of his community might not need to get footwear made, chefs do deliberate a fair deal on what they slip on to their feet. While literature online rates the Crocs Bistro and Dansko Professional high on preference, Mumbai-based chef Harsh Dixit had his eyes set on a pair of Ozweego trainers. The chunky sneakers, high on breathability and snug cushioning by Adidas, were a rage in the late 1990s. Harking back on their retro popularity at parties rather than running tracks, the trainers were re-released recently to celebrate the stylish decade.

Two months ago, Dixit, who is personal chef to Ranbir Kapoor, had the limited edition pair delivered to his Lokhandwala home. "Back then, the craze around sneakers wasn't as big," Dixit, 32, recalls. "But I remember hankering for this style because it was rad, with its wavy midsole lines." The pair arrived at his residence in packaging modelled after a cereals box. It speaks of a collaboration that Adidas is forging with a variety of creators, including chefs, hoping they create a "physical manifestation of the product proposition". They chose Dixit and Kelvin Cheung, former F&B head of Bandra's seafood restaurant Bastian, calling them "experimental" and for their "appreciation for quality footwear that make a solid style statement".

Toshin Shetty /// Chocolatier  Most pairs he owns are meant for professional basketball players. Pic/Ashish Raje
Toshin Shetty - Chocolatier Most pairs he owns are meant for professional basketball players. Pic/Ashish Raje

Dixit said his challenge was to take an iconic dish from his past and re-imagine it with an interesting spin. Inspired by the milk and cereal box cover, he decided he'd hark back to the breakfast of his childhood, medu vada. The ring cereal on the box resembled Liliputan doughnuts. "As someone who grew up eating Indian breakfast, not cereal, I thought let's do something around it," he says. Dixit created miniscule spinach medu vadas and dunked them in chutney-flavoured coconut milk tempered with curry leaves and mustard seed crunchies. Of the recipe that's now up on his Instagram account, Dixit says, "It's tasty, easy to whip up and healthier than a sugary bowl of cereal. And it's vegan." Just like the shoe that's virtually unrecognisable from its origins, the dish is also a reimagination of the original recipe's core. Sharad Singla, director-brand marketing, Adidas India, says, the idea was to look beyond fashion influencers. "We are always on the lookout for fresh talent, who will be able to bring alive the concept in their own way, and who better than chefs to create a physical manifestation out of the proposition," he says.

For chefs, who spend countless hours on their feet in the kitchen, often vulnerable to hot spillage and kitchen tools injury, investing in a pair of top-notch shoes is necessity first. Having said that, sneakers aren't allowed in all professional kitchens. "Typically, you wear something called kitchen shoes which are like clogs; they are functional, slip-resistant and supportive, but not necessarily good looking," says Dixit. Chefs often keep a pair of smarter shoes handy when they step out to greet their guests.

For as long as he was working in restaurant kitchens like BKC's Yautacha, Dixit says he toed the line. But when he turned entrepreneur with Six Pack Meals, a self-funded delivery kitchen, he began "living in sneakers". "I was quick to break the rules. I started wearing shorts and sneakers to work." For somebody who was never fashion-conscious, "sneakers gave me personality; I found my vibe," he says.

Harsh Dixit /// iIndependent chef Transitioned to only sneakers when he turned entrepreneur. Pic/Sameer Markande
Harsh Dixit - Independent chef Transitioned to only sneakers when he turned entrepreneur. Pic/Sameer Markande

Put it simply, for some chefs, sneakers are more than shoes. "They exude personality," says Pallavi Jayswal, chef and co-founder of Uno Mas, BKC's one-year-old Spanish restaurant. The 42-year-old is all too familiar with the appreciative looks she gets for her footwear. Like Dixit, Jayswal turned to sneakers when she established her own brand. "You don't want oil spilling on them or a knife landing. Which is why, if you've noticed, it's usually head chefs who sport sneakers. They, like editors, oversee the functioning and may not be necessarily be getting their hands dirty in daily activities."

Jayswal's Hill Road home houses an enviable sneaker collection, including pairs by ASOS, VANS, Desigual and Nobull USA. Unlike Dixit, who has gone through the rite of passage by signing up for raffles and waiting in queues for limited edition pairs to drop at stores, Jayswal makes most purchases online or while travelling. But if there's one fact most sneakerheads agree on it's that the indulgence requires deep pockets. On a recent visit to London, chocolatier Toshin Shetty snapped up a pair of high-top Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers. Not one to shy away from spending a part of what he earns on luxe-fashion, he already has six Zanotti pairs, and one each from Christian Louboutin, Prada, Versace and Mercedes AMG. But the journey to luxury has been a slow one. "I didn't seriously start collecting until 2011. I started with basic pairs as a teen and later, began saving up to buy shoes. In fact, my parents weren't aware of the first pair of Prada I bought because they cost me R45,000!"

Celebrity chef Kelvin Cheung, formerly with Bastian in Bandra, was picked by Adidas along with Dixit for the Ozweego collaboration
Celebrity chef Kelvin Cheung, formerly with Bastian in Bandra, was picked by Adidas along with Dixit for the Ozweego collaboration

Most pairs are high-tops, meant for professional basketball players. They are his go-to accessory for brunches and night outs. A fascinating outcome of the sub-culture that's flourishing at the back of kitchens is the sneaker resale market. "It's about demand and supply," Dixit observes. Which means the more rare a shoe or limited its production, the more coveted it is. The Yeezy Boost V2 in Dixit's closet—made famous by Kanye West—is one he originally paid R24,000 for. It's now worth a lakh. On Instagram, he receives a deluge of DMs from die-hard fans willing to shell out triple the original price. "The pair is three years old and weather-beaten because I've used it recklessly for two years. But people want it. If I ever go broke, I know what to do."

Adidas' cereals box-inspired packaging for Ozweego sneakers
Adidas' cereals box-inspired packaging for Ozweego sneakers

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