A long-honoured tradition among chefs throughout the world is to proudly wear their very distinctive uniform. Developed in France in the early 1800s, the attire represents professionalism, quality, cleanliness and status. Each part of the uniform has a specific function to help the chef in his cooking duties.
Beginning at the top, we cannot miss a chef’s hat or cap, originally name “la toque blanche”. This funny looking hat prevents sweat and hair from falling into the food and helps keep the chef’s head cool. The height of the hat used to indicate the rank of each cook in a kitchen. A chef’s jackets are generally double breasted with long sleeves to protect from burns. The two layers of fabric offer better protection. The buttons are designed with thread covers to ensure they do not melt from the heat or break and fall into the food. An added feature of these buttons is the ease with which they unfasten, allowing the chef to quickly remove his jacket of need be.
Chefs also wear an apron that goes from the waist to below the knees to protect them from burns and stains. They generally tie their apron in the front so it is easy and quick to remove before going into the dining room to meet guests. Chefs wear baggy pants with elastic waist for protection and fast removal. The bagginess prevents hot liquids or flames to reach the skin immediately. Being on their feet for many hours, chefs need to wear comfortable shoes that also protect them from spills or falling objects. Another advantage of sensible footwear is anti-slip soles that help the chef keep his balance even on wet surfaces.
The choice of material is also important as chef want a fabric that is light and can absorb sweat. Typically, uniforms are made of cotton or spun poly fabrics. Traditionally white, to reflect heat and inspire confidence, chefs’ uniforms are meant to inspire confidence in their owner’s culinary skills. It is a distinctive way to look professional in the kitchen. More recently, other colors have began appearing in the kitchen. We have seen dark greys and blacks becoming more prevalent as they hide stains better than white uniforms do. Short sleeves are also occasionally seen. Although the rational for these changes makes sense, not all chefs accept this break with tradition and prefer their conservative attire to new designs.
For anyone watching cooking shows on television, you also know about the unofficial uniform complement that is the multipurpose towel. Generally tucked into the chef’s waistband, the towel follows him everywhere he goes in the kitchen. It becomes an oven mitt and offers protection when picking up or handling warm plates and pans. It provides a quick solution to sponge off small spills on counter tops and cooking surface. And, finally, it is the perfect place to wipe wet hands before the chef hands out his masterpiece.
The product of a long tradition and based on practicality, a chef’s uniform is a symbol of knowledge and professionalism that inspires confidence and respect in renown restaurants.