The History of the Chef's Uniform
Let's look at the chef's uniform, its origins, and why chefs in the culinary world believe it is such an honor to wear the traditional uniform that you see cooking books filled with.
A Quick Glance at the Chef’s Uniform
Chefs are often depicted wearing classic double breasted coats with aprons tied with the classic white hat.
The uniform, which is also called a chef’s whites, typically consists of:
- A white hat (formally known as toque blanche)
- A white double breasted coat
- Black-and-white houndstooth pants
- An apron.
Other parts of a chef’s uniform include buttons, pockets, shoes, and in some cases, neckerchiefs.
Keeper of Traditions
The best part about working in a kitchen is the tradition. Everything has a history, from the methods used to cook dishes to the uniforms chefs wear. Kitchen brigades, or brigade de cuisine as they’re formally known, used to be large, but today, chefs are usually busy in many areas of the kitchen, making it unusual to be in command of only one section.
Being a chef or cook involves being a part of a historical tradition that extends back more than 2,000 years, which is one of the things that makes it so amazing.
Chef Uniform History
This sort of apparel has been worn since the mid-nineteenth century. Marie-Antoine Carême, a well-known French chef who is believed to be the first celebrity chef, is credited with inventing the modern chef uniform. To go with his "high art" French cooking known as "grande cuisine," he intended to establish an attire that would professionalize the culinary arts.
The Angelica Uniform Groups’ first unique invention was a cook's uniform stitched by the wife of railroad chef Cherubino Angelica in Missouri in 1878. Many more creative, trendsetting designs followed this debut chef uniform, which made the Angelica Uniform Group a prevalent fixture in the American office.
The white chef's coat has become customary in the culinary world forever, especially among classic French restaurants. It's considered part of a classic chef's uniform as well as a functional chef's garment.
The coat is a very adaptable piece of the chef's outfit. While cooking on a busy kitchen floor, the hefty material shields the chef from heat, steam hot spills, and spilling liquids. Long sleeves and white jackets are typically worn to conceal the arms while reaching into ovens.
However, most uniforms used in the restaurant industry are now manufactured with short sleeves to allow for greater mobility.
The heavy cotton material of the double breasted jacket shields the wearer from the heat of burners and ovens, as well as the splattering of boiling liquids. This can also be used to conceal stains. To withstand regular washing and contact with hot liquids, knotted textile buttons were used.
These unusual wide-flapped coats had the benefit of being reversible, so if the front of the traditional chef uniform jacket became dirty, the dirty flap could be hidden behind to improve appearance. The chef could then double the amount of time they could wear a clean chef jacket for.
Since the jacket buttons are in both directions, it is suitable for both men and women. Today, its unisex appearance reflects the fact that the term "chef" has no gender connotation.
The chef coat's buttons are also symbolic: trained chefs wear black buttons, whereas students wear white ones.
“Toque” is the Arabic word for hat, and “Blanche” is French for white, resulting in the phrase “white hat,” which was adopted in French culinary history. The toque is a chef's hat that was first invented in the 16th century and became part of a traditional chef uniform.
Different heights of a toque may reflect rank within a kitchen, and the number of folds may also show a chef's expertise, with each fold signifying a learned technique.
The toque blanche also has a practical role. The first is to keep the chef's hair from getting into the cuisine. The second is for the employees to immediately identify where the chef is in the preparation area - all they have to do is look for the tall white hat.
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History of the Chef's Toque
The chef hat, or toque, has been worn since ancient times. Poisoning was a frequent means for Assyrians to get rid of adversaries thousands of years ago. Aware of the issue, Assyrian royalty carefully selected their caterers. They appointed only their most faithful people as chefs, including members of the royal family, and made them members of the court. Chefs were compensated richly in money and land to escape the temptation of being bribed by the monarchs' opponents.
They were awarded a crown similar in shape to their royal employers, but theirs was made of cloth and didn’t have any jewels. Some believe that the royal headdress's crown-shaped ribs evolved into the pleats of a chef's hat.
During the pinnacle of the Greek and Roman empires, chefs presided over avaricious feasts, where they were called before the royal court to be ceremoniously "crowned" with a bonnet-style cap adorned with laurel leaves.
Another theory goes that the modern toque was inspired by the headpiece worn by Greek Orthodox priests. Barbarians were overrunning the Byzantine Empire by the end of the sixth century A.D. The invaders specifically targeted philosophers and artists.
Cooks were esteemed on par with philosophers; therefore, these philosophers, chefs, and other artisans retreated to Greek monasteries. They disguised themselves as priests while hiding. The chefs, however, altered the color of their headwear from black to white out of respect for the clerics.
By the sixteenth century, each nation had its variations in the hat's height, form, and rigidity. You could tell a French chef by the tall hats and flattened beret. The Italians wore a medium-height beret with formal pleats, and the Germans donned a softly gathered version.
Two centuries later, French chefs began wearing a "casque à mèche'' or stocking cap, with different colors indicating status. Meanwhile, Spanish chefs wore white wool berets, while Germans sported pointed Napoleonic hats with tassels.
On the other hand, cooks in England chose to wear black caps. In the Middle Ages, British cuisine was known as Baronial cooking and consisted of cooking in a massive wood-burning hearth. Long hours were spent stoking the fires and reaching into the hearth to cater to the meats.
As a result, the chef hat would be stained with soot and ash. Black was a practical color for these chefs. Because the kitchen was normally relatively far from the dining room, their caps were frequently pressed flat, allowing them to carry meals on their heads.
English cooks wore little black caps resembling a librarian's skull cap far into the twentieth century. Because this sort of headwear was neither cool nor comfortable and was impractical for routine stove work, it became a symbol of the "master cook" or kitchen supervisor.
Importance of the Color White
All this talk about white hats and white chef coats puts forward the question: Why would a chef wear all white chef jackets when working with stain-prone sauces and oils?
The color white is used in a more traditional chef's uniform to indicate power and authority. It is also thought to be clean, which is an attribute you'd want someone making your food to have.
The color also has a practical function. White reflects heat rather than absorbs it, which is important when working in a hot kitchen.
Wearing breathable, cozy chef pants is essential for spending hours running around a kitchen. A traditional chef's uniform commonly includes black or white houndstooth-patterned pants, which cover stains and spills nicely. The United States often uses a black and white houndstooth pattern for chef pants, whereas many chefs in Europe prefer to wear blue-and-white checkered pants.
To promote all-day comfort, the waist is usually elastic or a drawstring. They are also lightweight and breathable, making them ideal for hot kitchens. To provide functionality, the design includes side and back pockets.
A traditional long white apron is worn over the chef's jacket to hide stains and protect both the uniform and the chef. It's still a part of what chefs today wear.
The apron as we know it today originated in France during the 14th century where it was known as a naperon. It was used to cover tablecloths to keep them protected from spillages and food. There was even a time when women wore decorated aprons for fashion.
By the 17th century, the word naperon had transformed into apron. French chefs began wearing them to protect their clothing underneath whilst cooking. As time passed, the apron evolved into a sign of status in the kitchen.
Historically, chefs wore aprons while cooking and leaning over big open flames. It is now worn to protect the white jacket, and checkered pants from spills, burns, and stains and to keep the uniform clean.
These traditional long white aprons are typically cut to fall just below the knee, allowing the chef to move around the kitchen without becoming tangled in the cloth.
Aprons are typically white, black, or striped to match the rest of the uniform.
Anyone who has spent the day working on a line will relate to the need of wearing high-quality, protective footwear, which is sometimes disregarded as a necessary component of the uniform. For safety and support, hard leather shoes with slip-resistant soles are advised.
Most chefs now use side towels to protect their hands when removing hot items from the burner or oven. When not in use, the towel is tucked within the apron's string.
The side towel is not supposed to be used as a cleaning cloth. If a spill is cleared with a side towel out of habit or impulse, it is replaced immediately. Side towels lose their ability to insulate the hands if they become even slightly damp. They instead conduct the heat, which moves fast through moisture.
Sweat dripping down the wearer’s neck is absorbed by the neckerchief. Although most kitchens do not require it, it does provide a finished professional and chic look to any chef wearing a uniform.
The Evolution of the Chef’s Uniform
The evolution of the chef uniform was influenced by four factors:
- A functional necessity for protection.
- An aesthetic desire to create a tidy, sophisticated image.
- To convey distinction, establish rank, and imply pride.
- To eliminate the need to stand out by wearing distinctively styled elements.
- Brand image
A professional chef's uniform serves as a unifying factor, fostering team spirit while pushing individuals to focus on the work they are doing instead of their outward appearance. Modern professional chef uniforms reflect their legendary and romantic past as well as their practical and functional qualities.
Work uniforms can help both employees and the company in a variety of ways. So, whether you’re interested in upgrading or perhaps introducing a workplace uniform and are in the service industry, Everyday Uniforms has plenty of options for the food industry.
Everyday Uniforms offers everything from aprons to bottoms that are functional and help you look your best.
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