“A lot of my friends would joke that I literally only wear merch from the restaurants and cafes I worked at – they would give us free T-shirts,” says Steve Chan, owner and head chef at Sleepy’s Cafe and Wine Bar.
After quitting uni to work in hospitality and cutting his teeth in many front-of-house roles over the years, Chan opened his Melbourne venue in Carlton North off the back of Covid. It’s a place where he’s now selling his own (sellout) merch as well as plating a new wave of Chinese-Australian dishes.
“I was never meant to be in the kitchen. A lot of my chef friends from Sydney were meant to come down, but because of Covid restraints it didn’t happen,” he tells Broadsheet. “In the meantime, I thought I’d jump in the kitchen, but I was just your typical Youtube home chef. After a while though I was like, ‘This is pretty fun’ and now I’m addicted.”
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Apart from discovering a passion for cooking, Chan’s found himself venturing into fashion beyond restaurant tees. Much like his personality, “approachable cool” serves as an apt descriptor of his low-key style.
While busy in the kitchen, he requires both flexibility and mobility from his clothes without compromising on his “neat and fun” aesthetic. You won’t catch him in chef’s whites and an apron – instead, a silky shirt tucked into laid-back pants is a typical Chan look. And it’s one that doesn’t change much when he’s off-duty, apart from swapping dark, stain-appropriate hues for something more colour-centric.
What does an average workday look like for you?
I’ve started phasing myself out of working in the daytime but before, and sometimes now, I would get in early in the morning and jump in the kitchen. Now I’ve swapped to nights, which means I come in just after midday to get everything prepared and make sure the stock is topped up and prep is done. Then it’s service till probably nine or 10 o’clock most nights.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is ever-growing. Back in the day, I didn’t really have a style because I worked so much. Now, it’s been really cool to put some time into finding my style. At the moment, I’d say what I want to aim for is one of those 1990s comedy-action Hong Kong uncles – the ones wearing plaid and small round glasses. My look is always very block-colour-esque. I love T-shirts tucked into pants and layering shirts on top. In the kitchen, I try to wear simpler clothes just because I get dirty a lot.
Where do you get your style inspiration from?
Growing up in Sydney, everyone’s into their activewear and tight-fitting workout clothes, so part of it stems from that. Back in my uni days, I would always see ads for the Melbourne clothing label Bronze Snake. Nowadays, honestly, I love walking around and going people-watching in the city.
What do you require from your clothes to be able to do your job properly?
For me, it’s less about how it looks and more about how it feels. From day dot I’ve never been able to work in a jumper or jacket, it’s very restrictive. I like moving fast, so I prefer clothes that let me do things at my full potential.
I like baggy clothes in my work wardrobe because I can tuck them in. You have control – if it’s hot you can aerate but when you’re moving fast you can tuck something in.
What’s your most beloved item of clothing?
It’s an old retro-style plaid jacket from Lacoste with a green tinge to it. I bought it from Goodbyes recently and it really solidifies the Hong Kong uncle look, I think! There’s a gold label on it and it’s just really sick.
Do you have a go-to item in your wardrobe that you associate with a good or productive day at work?
I do, it’s a black T-shirt I got in 2018 or 2019 when I was taking photos for a friend’s Mexican pop-up. It’s got a really nice cut and it’s thick and sturdy with graphics on the back. The weight of the T-shirt is so nice – I feel my most comfortable every time I wear it.
Where are some of your favourite places to shop?
Uniqlo is always a favourite of mine. They have good staples and I love Japanese simplicity. Recently, I’ve also been going to [the consignment store] Goodbyes a lot. It’s so eclectic – you walk in and you never know what you’re going to get. Some of my favourite pieces are from there. I’m really into rings and silverware and recently got the Gestures earring from PAM. Merchants of the Sun is another label and I like its simplicity. A lot of my friends also make jewellery so I hit them up, too.
Do you have any favourite skincare products?
My mum is really into skincare and always pushes products my way saying I need to take care of my skin. But I’m one of those guys, unfortunately, who doesn’t do anything or have a routine. I’m down to try, though. My favourite fragrance is Tom Ford Black Orchid. It’s always stuck with me since I used to work at David Jones. I’m big on nostalgia and it has good memories and smells great.
This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.
For a look inside the wardrobe of more fashionable folk head to our Work Uniform series.