February 17, 2016

A Brief History Of The Chef’s Uniform

In a recent blog post, we outlined some of the intriguing history of the traditional chef’s hat. And though the toque may be most readily associated with culinary arts graduates, it’s not the only iconic part of a chef’s outfit. Here is some interesting insight into the other pieces that comprise the standard chef’s uniform:

How far back does the chef’s uniform date?
The outfit as we know it began in 1822, when French artist Marie-Antoine Careme released a sketch called “Le Maitre d’Hotel Francais.” In the portrait, two chefs are depicted as wearing the toque, trousers, a double-breasted jacket and an apron. However, as El Centro College pointed out, this setup wouldn’t become en vogue in the culinary world until 1878. Though modern chefs wear a less formal version, many of these same pieces are still found in their attire.

Why the double-breasted jacket?
On the one hand, this special piece of attire is synonymous with classic chef’s attire and has a certain sense of regality to it. Yet, as Culinary Lore explained, the standard chef’s jacket has more subtle, real-world applications. The two layers of heavy-duty cloth protect chefs from steam, splashing liquids and other potential kitchen hazards. That’s also the reason that most jacket buttons are made of knotted-cloth and not metal or plastic. This prevents any button pieces from breaking off and landing in a stew or atop some tasty rib eye steak.

escoffier_boulder-18Why are chef’s jackets white?
Much like the jacket itself, the color white is meant to give patrons the sense that the chef is occupying a position of power or influence. White is also, as the City Dish explained, a powerful symbol of both cleanliness and perfection. However, the choice of white has two great cooking advantages that chefs rely on. The hue is great at deflecting heat, which offers the chef added protection from stoves, open fires, etc. in the kitchen. Many chefs also believe that white is the best color for blocking the appearance of stains. A chef also wears checkered or houndstooth pants in the hopes of camouflaging unfortunate food stains.

Is that towel just decorative?
Many chefs walk around the kitchen with a dish or bar towel tucked into his or her waist band. Unlike the way a jacket influences people’s perceptions, The Kitchn noted that the towel is based purely on functionality. In a busy kitchen, the towel will be your go-to tool, used for holding warm bowls or pans, cleaning up small spills and dribbles, mopping up excess moisture and oil, and wiping off your hands.