Accolades abound for Chef Oya Woodruff, owner of Chef Oya’s The Trap, an east side walk-up seafood joint that sprouted from her home—literally straight from her front porch. The Trap has gained national attention for its piled-high seafood trays and seasonal seafood-laden Trap Chowder. Woodruff’s public personality is bright and bubbly yet straightforward. She updates her social media with daily affirmations, inspirational thoughts, and, of course, Trap news. Recently, she has taken a personal journey that focuses on her own mental and physical well-being—something many restaurateurs, chefs, and back-of-house folks don’t usually prioritize but should be normalized.
The Trap is so clutch to the Indy food scene. We often don’t hear about the many other experiences you’ve had. What’s a tidbit most of us haven’t heard, a chapter in your life that is part of the larger story of Chef Oya?
OK, so, I was 20 years old. I was a college dropout, unsure of what my life was going to look like. It was my day to cook for the family. Like I did every other time I’d ever cooked for my family, I checked the fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what I could whip up. We had everything to make spaghetti except pasta. Going to the grocery store was not an option that day. I remembered seeing someone on Food Network make pasta from scratch and decided to give it a shot. We had all the ingredients to make it, so that’s what I did. I packed some up for my godmother who lived next door. When she tasted it, she told me that since I had time to make pasta from scratch, I needed to enroll in culinary classes at the community college. So that’s what I did.
Many accomplished chefs deal with imposter syndrome, especially female-identified, BIPOC, and queer chefs. I know I look at you and see this talented person who is smart, funny, and driven. Do you ever deal with self-criticism? How do you combat it if you do?
I absolutely deal with self-criticism. For the reasons you mentioned in your question and many others, I am, without a doubt, my harshest critic. But when those moments arise, and I’m beating myself up for something, the most powerful tool I have is my support system. I lean on those who love me. They remind me of who I am and affirm me in ways that keep me grounded and focused when I need it most. I am eternally grateful for my people. I also scroll back through my social media pages to remind myself of all I’ve accomplished and how much of a bad bitch I really am—just in case everyone else is busy.
Lately, you have gone viral not for being in the kitchen but for being in the gym. You even cut your locs—which I know might be seen as very symbolic. What made you want to get a trainer and change your diet?
The need for a trainer came after a several-years-long battle with chronic pain from a knee injury and osteoarthritis. The pain made it unbearable to walk, which made it almost impossible to work, which impacted my income. This came after the fallout from Covid, and my mental health just took a huge hit. I sought mental therapy to help my depression and anxiety and took physical therapy to help with the injury, but I knew I needed to do more. Once I felt better mentally, my physical condition was next. I got a referral for a trainer from my good sister-friend Simonè and had an assessment. Working with Elise from E Class Fitness has been so incredibly empowering. My trainer focuses not only on my physical health but also on the relationship between my physical and mental health. She’s a proponent of radical self-love and knows and reminds me that both pieces are important to the puzzle of my weight-release journey. The other major component is diet, but that’s an entire article. I could be all deep and esoteric about why I cut my locs, but the truth is I have had locs for 18 years. I wore them in several styles, colors, and lengths during that time. One day I looked at them and decided it was time to let them go completely. It’s fun and easy—I love it!
How does the new path you’re make you feel? Has it changed anything for you?
Moving my body intentionally has helped me develop better routines, which has definitely helped establish a higher level of discipline in my daily life. I’m discovering new passions and exploring what wholeness looks like for me in exciting ways. Changing my diet and increasing my physical activity after the injury has changed how I feel about what I’m capable of. Chronic pain has a way of convincing you that life is always going to hurt. As I heal, I’m learning more about who I am outside of the pain I thought had permanently taken over my life.
Have you gotten any feedback—good or bad—because your menu at The Trap is not seen as “diet food?”
I haven’t received any complaints about the menu at The Trap, so I don’t feel a need to change it. It’s Trap Buttah for life, honestly. I don’t have anything to prove. I offer deliciously dope seafood that my community can enjoy how they please. But because I believe in the power of laying claim to your story and being transparent, I share my journey on social media. On my health journey page, @losing_to_land, I primarily show my workouts and my weekly meal prep, plus any new recipes I’m trying out. My followers showed so much interest in the latter, I created Trap at Home, a meal prep service from The Trap that offers deliciously dope vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian options for people who are watching their macros or just don’t have time or energy to cook. It’s a win for everybody.