The traditional uniform of the professional chef is a hat, a white jacket and striped pants. The uniform is rich in tradition and the chefs who wear it do so not only as a sign of respect and esteem for their profession, but also as a way to pay homage to this history.
Each item of this uniform is designed to protect and assist the chef in their work. From design to fabric and button selection, nothing is left out.
The traditional chef uniform
The traditional uniform of a chef is:
White toque blanc (long, cylindrical-shaped, pleated hat in white)
Double-breasted white jacket with knotted cloth button
The loose-fitting pants are in the houndstooth (black and white check) pattern.
It was created by Marie-Antoine Careme in the mid-19th Century to honor professional chefs. Marie-Antoine introduced the white color to the uniform, which was a popular choice before. Georges Auguste Escoffier, a French chef who ruled at renowned London hotels the Savoy Hotel and Carlton Hotels during his reign in London, introduced this uniform to Western countries. The uniform’s popularity spread quickly around the world.
Many professional chefs still wear their full uniform, while others opt for a skullcap or hairnet instead of the toque blanche.
The chef’s hat
The toque blanc (French: ‘white hat,’ is one of the most identifiable items in a chef uniforms. The image of a tall hat, round, with pleats, is often conjured up when the word “chef” is mentioned.
Historially, the toque blanc indicates the status of the chef in a kitchen. (Their level of seniority, their knowledge, and their authority.) It also has a practical purpose, preventing hairs from getting into food during preparation.
Two features distinguish the toque:
Height of a chef’s hat
The height of the chef’s hat has historically been a sign of his or her rank. The higher the hat is, the older the chef. Marie-Antoine Careme reportedly wore a hat that was 18 inches tall and had to be reinforced using cardboard in order to stand at attention.
Number of Pleats on a Chef Hat
Tradition dictated that the chef with the most pleats in their hat had the highest level of experience. According to tradition, if a chef wore 100 pleats on their hat it represented how many ways they could prepare eggs. Most chefs today do not have as much pleating but it still represents their level of experience when it comes down to learning new techniques and recipes.
Chefs wear a variety of styles of headwear, including the traditional toque blanc. Some chefs wear a bandana or skull cap, while others prefer disposable food service hats.
It all comes down to what rules and regulations are in place at each restaurant, as well the aesthetic that they want to achieve. Some restaurants only give toques blancs to the chefs in charge, while others require all chefs to wear the same skullcap.
The chef’s jacket
The chef’s coat has many important features, and all of them are centered on functionality.
Material: Made from heavy cotton fabric to provide breathability, and protect the chef from hot liquid splashes and heat.
Sleeves: Chef’s uniforms have traditionally had either shorter or longer sleeves. Longer sleeves protect the arms from cuts and burns, while shorter sleeves keep the uniform out the way.
Knotted buttons. Plastic or metal buttons can chip or fall out, which can be dangerous in a professional kitchen environment. Cloth buttons that are knotted can be used to avoid this problem. The buttons are much easier to untie if the chef needs to remove his jacket in an emergency situation involving hot oil or fire.
Reversible & double-breasted: The double layer has two purposes. The additional layer provides insulation against heat and burns. It can be reversed quickly if the jacket becomes stained. This allows chefs to continue their work without having to stop. This is useful if the chef has to be in the dining room for a meeting with customers.
The chef’s pants
The loose fit of most chef pants is to allow for easy movement and protection against hot spills. (Close-fitting fabrics retain heat against the skin.) The houndstooth pattern is also featured. It’s a black and white outline of abstract shapes with four points. This pattern can be used to hide stains or dirt.
The chef’s apron
The vast majority of chefs wear an apron today as an additional protection against heat and flames.
A chef’s apron of high quality should be made from a flame-resistant, heavy-duty material. Some chefs prefer to have large pockets for safe storage of the essential cooking tools.
The chef’s shoe
When it comes to choosing chef shoes, comfort and safety are two of the most important factors. Chefs are often on their feet from 10 to 12 hours per day, so they need shoes that fit well and absorb shock. To ensure safety, shoes must be non-slip with steel or reinforced toes.
Many chefs prefer the fit of a shoe based on a clog because:
You need good traction to move around the kitchen
Toes are often reinforced.
Extra padding is important for shock absorption
Shoes are lace-free so that there is no danger of tripping on an untied shoelace
Why do chefs wear white?
Three main reasons why professional chefs wear white include:
Marie-Antoine thought that white was the best color to choose because it represents cleanliness, which is important in a professional kitchen.
The white color of the food is a heat reflector, which provides extra protection to chefs from high cooking temperatures.
White can be cleaned even though it shows stains readily.
How to take care of a chef’s uniform
Many chefs invest in uniforms of higher quality to ensure durability. These uniforms are made from more durable materials and can withstand frequent laundering. They also tend to retain their original color and shape, so they require less replacement.
Here are some tips on how to maintain a chef’s uniform.
Care instructions can vary from one garment to another.
Avoid letting stains set in by treating them as soon as possible. If possible, avoid rubbing stains and instead use club soda or other solutions.
If you want to avoid odors or stains, wash your clothes after every shift.
Consider using a professional laundromat if you are short on time between shifts.
After 3 months, use an oxygen-based cleaner to refresh the chef’s whites.
Store uniforms safely after cleaning to prevent any further mess before beginning a shift.
Wear the uniform only inside the restaurant.
Invest in a spare set.
When to replace worn out items
What not to wear in the kitchen
Kitchens are dangerous places because of the heat, liquids that are hot, sharp utensils, and heavy equipment.
Sandals and other open toed footwear are suitable for wearing.
Shoes with Low Traction
Clothing made of synthetic fibers and flammable fibers
Clothing that doesn’t cover the arms and legs fully (ie. singlets and briefs)
The information presented here shows that professional chefs can be identified not only by their uniform, but also by the condition in which they keep it. Wearing a uniform with pride is not only a sign of respect for the work they do, but it also shows that the chefs are proud of their heritage. It is important to have the correct uniform and the knowledge of what equipment is best for their job.