Amanda Stuckey is the vice president of marketing for Chef Works, a global company that distributes culinary and hospitality apparel. She takes us into her world, sharing the thrills and challenges of outfitting the global restaurant industry.
What has been the most exciting part of running a business that is at the intersection of clothing and hospitality?
When you look back through the history of kitchens, the chef’s uniform always had certain status symbols. Take, for example, the traditional toque (hat). The taller it was, the higher the status. However, until only a couple of decades ago, fashion and chefs were relatively exclusive from each other. The concept of functional garments that were also fashionable — even hip and trendy — were born when chefs started becoming “celebrity” chefs. The thrill has been continuously finding new ways to push the envelope of culinary and hospitality fashion. We’re creating garments that are as functional as they are stylish and that’s extremely rewarding. We get to take these two industries and mash them together and have a lot of fun in the process.
What is the biggest challenge you see for restaurant owners/chefs on the clothing side of things?
Beware of one-hit-wonders and fading trends. This applies to food as much as it does clothing. Building an entire restaurant concept and flavor profile around one specific trend is a risk. Likewise, picking your clothing style can have a similar, negative effect. Think of the parachute pants from the 90s. We didn’t build the company around those. We design all of our apparel to have classic elements that will never go out of style. But we also have the ability to focus on adding unique, trend-relevant details so we’re always able to easily flow between fashion-forward and functional.
Any exciting or innovative uniform technologies you’re excited about in the restaurant industry?
We always want to be at the vanguard of fashion technology, whether it’s expanding on our Cool Vent™ line, which uses moisture-wicking technology to filter in cool air, or experimenting with lighter, longer-lasting fabrics. Instead of shying away from those who break the rules, we try to do the same in the uniform industry. The continuing growth and popularity of our Urban Line is a great example of this. We’re inspired by those who aren’t afraid to blaze their own trail. And we want to give them the gear to do it.
Biggest piece of advice, tip or trick for chefs and restauranteurs when deciding what to wear?
More than ever, chefs and restaurants are telling a story with their food. So finding the right look that matches that story and complements their brand can be as critical as deciding on the menu and décor. We want to take the guess work out of it by offering hundreds of combinations and styles that are interchangeable, functional and still match a price point. Our gear plays as well in fine dining restaurants as it does in food truck circles. Chefs and servers are no longer just employees. They are brand ambassadors. Finding the right look can unify the brand and bolster brand reach and engagement.
In the heat of the kitchen, what is the safest but most versatile uniform?
Well, I think it’s safe to assume that when you’re dealing with fire, liquids and knives, no uniform is going to provide complete safety. But what we try to do is find ways to minimize risk to the culinarian and give them a garment that has useful and functional details. Thermometer pockets, for example, are a simple addition that is often overlooked but can make a huge difference. The combination of our chef coats and aprons will keep you as safe as one can be from piping-hot splatter or debris. So if you’re building a starter ensemble, begin with a long-sleeve chef coat, with the ability to roll up the sleeves, a bib apron and chef pants. That’s a solid starter combination. And always know where your thumbs are when handling knives.
What famous chef do you wish you could see your uniforms on?
All of them? We love when celebrity chefs come on board to be Chef Works brand ambassadors and influencers. It means we’re doing something right and they want to attach their name to it. But we also love when we hear about an executive chef for a school district in Texas who loves his executive coat; or an international student who lands their first culinary career posting as an understudy to one of the greats; or the mother-daughter team in Connecticut who wear our chef coats at their paleo restaurant; or the Hollywood makeup artist who can’t live without our apron. Our business has thrived because no matter who wears our gear, we treat them all like celebrities — because to us, they are.