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The Significance of the Chef’s Uniform

We love to watch hectic kitchen scenes with all those frenetic activities of people in white- cutting, peeling and frying ingredients that are needed to complete an order.  Somehow, it’s different if those blur of activities aren’t done in white.  Here’s a closer look at a chef’s uniform—its significance, and a little bit of history.

One great way to professionalize the look of your restaurant kitchen is the use of chef uniforms.   Many of us love watching hectic kitchen scenes with all the frenzied cutting, peeling and frying when the cooks are rushing to complete a customer’s order (think Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart in the chef movie No Reservations).  The frenetic rush of activities of people in white somehow becomes more intriguing and fascinating in the eyes of an outside spectator.  All that rush, however, would seem different if the workers running to and fro aren’t wearing their uniforms.  It’s also intriguing to know that each facet of the chef’s uniform has its practical reasons.  Having said that, let’s have a closer look at the significance of a chef’s uniform:

Chef’s coat.  The white coat signifies cleanliness, whereas the thick cloth shields the chef from the heat coming from the stove and oven.  It also guards him from the splattering of boiling liquids.  The double-breasted jacket is meant to conceal dirt and stains when it is overturned.  In traditional chef’s clothes, knotted cloth buttons are used because they survive numerous washings and they endure contact with hot items without melting.

The modern chef’s coat could now be short sleeved, long sleeved or ¾ sleeved.  Designs vary – some have black piping while some have black contrasts.

Chef and cook pants.   The traditional color for chef pants is checkered black and white, which aids in hiding the dirt that is brought about by working in the kitchen.  Although modern chef’s pants now have various colors, the purpose of the dark and patterned designs remains the same:  to camouflage the dirt.  While the chef’s jacket is formal, the pants is loose-fitting, more relaxed and informal, as it helps chefs keep cool while doing their job.  It also gives them freedom to move.   Chefs are continuously turning, lifting, bending and moving, and they need this type of pants for easier movement.  The pants also need pockets for putting towels, tools or even food.
Modern design for chef’s pants are baggy-styled, cargo or zipper-styled.  In the United States, most working chefs wear black and white checkered pants.  In Europe, working chefs wear blue and white checkered pants.  Head chefs often wear black pants.  But then again, most chefs now have their own design ideas in mind, as tradition has moved on and evolved.

Chef’s apron.  Aprons are used to protect a person’s clothes from food spatters and blots while working in the kitchen.  While there are many kinds of aprons in the market (waist, bib, bistro, cobbler, tuxedo and shop aprons), the most popular that are used by most chefs are the 4-way chef waist apron and the no- pocket bib apron.

Chef’s hats.  And of course, topping it all would be the chef’s hat, or the toque (pronounced “tock”) which completes the whole get-up.  The height of a chef’s hat indicates his rank in the kitchen.  An interesting history was passed on that the 100 creases of the toque are said to stand for the 100 different methods that a chef knows in cooking an egg.  Or if we interpret that, it signifies the expertise of the chef in the kitchen.

Now, there are many chef’s hats to choose from — white chef’s hats of different lengths (11” and 13”), traditional chef hats, pillbox chef caps, chef tie-back caps, chefs mesh top skull caps, and classic baseball caps.  There are even disposable chef hats now that can be bought by pack.

There was a time when cooks didn’t wear uniforms, and they were just regarded by society as a bunch of drunken working men.  Two French chefs, Marie-Antoine Careme and Auguste Excoffier, wanted to give prestige to the profession by developing the chef’s uniform.  They wanted to honor the chef and elevate its status to a professional and more respected occupation.   It was them who encouraged chefs to take further studies and take their craft to a more professional level.  And from thereon the continuous advancement of chefs never stopped.