A Brief History of Chef Uniforms
There are few professional uniforms that are more distinguishable than that of pristine chef whites. The garments conjure up images of fine dining and culinary excellence, as well as being synonymous with the food industry’s commitment to hygienic food preparation. And yet, to the trained eye, the chef uniform is a masterpiece of functionality. The fabric, for example, is designed to withstand the heat of open flames. The long sleeves and double layers of the jackets help to protect against burns, and the double-breasted feature hides stains.
But how did the modern chef uniform come to be? Let us take you on a journey through the history of this iconic attire and what it tells us about the evolution of culinary arts.
Otherwise known as a toque, there are different versions of how the chef’s hat came about. These versions include tales of poisoned kings and chefs being beheaded over a stray hair in Henry VIII’s court. One of the most prominent tales, however, dates back to 146 BCE during the Byzantine invasion of Greece. It is said that Greek chefs evaded capture by disguising themselves as monks. At the time, traditional monk garb included large stovepipe hats that resemble the modern toque. After the invasion, chefs continued to wear the hats, and later generations followed suit.
The distinctive pleats came later on, and tend to act as a symbol of personal pride for the wearer. Legend has it that each pleat represents a dish that the chef has mastered. The more pleats there are, the more expertise the chef has.
The creation of the white, double-breasted chef’s jackets used today is generally attributed to Marie-Antoine Careme. Careme cooked in the kitchens of European royalty, including that of Napoleon Bonaparte, and is thought of as the first celebrity chef.
Aside from inventing culinary staples we know and love, as well as the four mother sauces, Careme was also known for his recipe books. In them were sketches of himself wearing white, double-breasted jackets. Because of his fame, this distinctive look became associated with culinary excellence. Later, French chef Auguste Escoffier would make the jacket a staple in professional kitchens. Escoffier emphasised the notion that the white conveyed a message of hygiene.
There is little historical evidence to suggest when kitchen professionals began to opt for chequered chef’s trousers. Chef garments evolved first out of necessity, and then as a distinctive style recognised across the globe.
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