Name: Hoa Le
Work: Entrepreneur and chef at Shaka in Federal Galley (200 Children’s Way, North Side. federalgalley.org)
When did Shaka open? How did you get started?
Shaka opened in August 2019, but prior to that, I ran a Vietnamese concept in Smallman Galley for two years called Banhmilicious. Poke is not a big thing in Pittsburgh yet; right now there are only like four or five options. So I had one poke dish at Banhmilicious and people loved it, so why not give this concept a try?
Tell me about what you’re wearing today.
When I started work, I was in corporate America, so [I wore] dresses, pencil skirts, blazers, and I enjoyed that part. But once I started in the kitchen, I get a workout. [Laughs] It is a different environment. All the odor in the food gets trapped, so you want to wear something that is light and breezy. I also do a lot of yoga, so I have a lot of athletic clothes. So most of the time I just wear yoga pants and a black plain t-shirt in the kitchen. It’s comfortable; you move a lot [so] you need a fabric that can work with you.
Do you wear an apron?
Sometimes I do, if I work with something really messy. But we work with a lot of raw fish, it's very lean [and] clean, and the kitchen stays neat so it's not necessary to wear an apron.
Does the open kitchen plan impact what you wear?
Exactly. Everyone has to look sharp, clean clothes, ironed. It is easy for me because athletic wear is everywhere. You see people wearing it, and it is easy to transfer it into your work-life.
The athletic wear/sportswear is performance wear.
Yes, it helps you shape your body a certain way; it can help your posture, you have to stand straight. I like it.
What about accessories?
In the kitchen, I keep it to a minimum, so I don’t wear any necklaces. I have a little earring on because I want to look girly — a little bit. [Laughs] They have a hook and they’re really secure. I wear my engagement ring and that’s pretty much it. My hair is super long, typically I put it in a ponytail. It is growing so long it gets heavy, so now I wear it in a braid.
What about footwear?
I wear Crocs every day. Just black Crocs — they're comfortable, affordable, slip-resistant, and work great in the kitchen.
Does wearing a kind of uniform ever get boring?
In my twenties, I never wore the same outfit twice. [Laughs] I would add accessories, necklaces, scarves. My coworkers said I never wore the same outfit — I had fun. But now with a different environment, your style changes as well. I love this new style. It is so comfortable, relaxing, movable. So I just want to be free and be more creative, dance to the music, and have fun cooking. I go through phases, so now comfort is more important to me. People are not really looking for a fashionista in the kitchen. [Laughs] As long as you look clean and make the food the right way, that’s what matters most. In order to do that, I have to be comfortable.
Do you have any gifts from someone that you wear often or every day?
The earrings are from my mom. They are from Vietnam; it speaks to my culture. I wear it every day. The engagement ring is a gift from my fiancé; I wear it every day.
Do you wear a gift to yourself that you wear often?
The things I bought for myself are still in my closet.