The chef uniform may very well be one of the most iconic and distinguishable uniforms recognized in society today. Some restaurant kitchen amateurs may feel like the culinary uniform is outdated, plain, and pointless; this however could not be more wrong.
While the look of a classic or traditional chef uniform isn’t the most glamorous, its usefulness is par none. Each element of the chef uniform or chef outfit serves a specific purpose and every detail from the fabric to the stitching involves years of research and development.
If you’ve ever noticed a large chef hat, or the iconic double-breasted jacket and wondered why chef’s wear these items, keep reading to find out.
The Traditional Chef’s Uniform
Dating back to the 1870’s a traditional uniform consists of:
- White toque blanche (pleated, tall, cylindrical-shaped hat)
- White double-breasted jacket with knotted cloth buttons
- Loose-fitting pants in a black and white checkered pattern
The uniform's origins are dated back to 1822 when a well-known French chef, Marie-Antoine Careme, employed the uniform to honor the work of professional chefs. It however wasn’t until 57 years later, in 1879, that this chef's outfit became standard in the kitchen. The toque blanche was already widely used, but the choice of white and the checkered pattern were implemented by Marie-Antoine. Eventually the uniform was brought to Western countries by French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier during his reign at renowned London restaurants. The chef uniform popularity quickly grew and was instantly recognized worldwide. Though most modern chefs wear a less formal version, many of the same pieces or elements of a traditional uniform can be found throughout their attire.
If you imagine a professional chef, you may instantly think of the iconic tall white hat. In modern times this hat has been replaced by a cap or beanie (although the tall white hat is still common). Any sort of chef hat does more than just tie the uniform together, it functions as a protector for both you and your customer. For your customer, of course, by keeping your hair and sweat out of their food. One single hair can ruin an entire customer experience; as well as your night, or even your reputation and these tiny hairs can shed without you realizing it. You want to find a chef hat that covers your head/hair completely, this will always be the best option. Aside from the other perks listed above a chef’s hat can also protect you. By concealing your hair, you reduce the risk of getting it caught in equipment, a door, or catching fire.
The chef’s jacket is the most important of the uniform, the biggest investment, and has several very important features.
- Material: The fabric used in premium chef jackets is most commonly a heavy cotton material; this provides stability, insulates the chef from heat and any splashes of hot liquids, and provides the look and feel of being a professional in your craft. Most often you can find other fabrics used, in particular, polyester or a jersey mesh material to provide comfort and breathability.
- Sleeves: You will commonly find long sleeve chef jackets, however short sleeve chef jackets are also very prominent. While long sleeves assist in protecting arms from cuts or burns, short sleeves keep the uniform out of the way and can be found in hot kitchens all over the world.
- Knotted buttons: Plastic or metal buttons can tend to fall off or chip, which can be very dangerous in a professional cooking environment. Imagine finding a chipped button hiding in your Scallop Sashimi. Although metal snap buttons weren’t available in the 1870’s, knotted cloth buttons have continued to live on to circumvent this particular issue.
- Double-breasted & reversible chef jacket: We’ve heard the term double-breasted chef jacket, but what does it really mean? The double layer chef jacket serves two functions. It provides an additional layer of insulation against splashing hot liquids, but it can also be reversed if the jacket were to become stained. This is handy if a chef is to present to the dining room to speak with patrons should the occasion arise.
So white, or black?
White jackets were originally the standard for chefs; kitchen cleanliness practices were rising with the development of better stoves. Escoffier demanded white be used in the kitchen (the man mentioned above who brought the chef uniform to the Midwest). This was a mandated practice because the public associated white coats with skilled professionals such as scientists and doctors. Today, however, more and more cooks work in open-kitchen restaurants. This means that the staff is visible to customers throughout their entire experience. What better to hide soiling than a black chef jacket? Others just prefer the black jacket as the color represents strength, seriousness, power, and authority.
Most commonly you’ll find chef pants to be loose fitting to assist with movement and protect against spills. The loose fit means that if you do spill a hit liquid on your pants, it isn’t held up against your skin. Although in a traditional chef uniform the pants used a checkered pattern which easily hid stains, in today’s kitchens you’ll most often find solid colored chef pants.
Although the apron isn’t necessarily considered part of a traditional chef’s uniform, most chefs today wear one as an added protection against the heat, stains, and flames of a kitchen.
The aprons you want to invest in are made out of a heavy-duty, flame retardant material. These are specifically crafted to protect you and your chef jacket. Don’t rely on a flimsy fabric discount apron to protect your fresh white high-quality chef’s jacket. Aside from your standard bib apron there are many different styles to choose from. Most commonly chefs prefer an apron with many or just a large pocket for easy storage and access to essential cooking tools.
Comfort and safety are really the biggest factors you should consider when it comes to footwear in the kitchen. Expert chefs spend anywhere from 10 to 12 hours on their feet in a given day which means your shoes must be well fitted and possess good shock absorption. Non-slip is a standard in any kitchen, but many chefs also consider whether or not the shoes have reinforced or steel toes to offer additional protection.
There are a variety of shoes o the market but many chefs favor the fit of a clog-based shoe because:
- They often offer great traction for moving around
- Often feature reinforced or steel toes
- Usually have additional padding for shock absorption
- Are lace-free which saves time and reduced tripping risks
If you’re looking for a comfortable, slip resistant chef shoe, we recommend utilizing TSAR technology by wearing chef shoes from ADHERA.
A bright white chef’s uniform sets the stage for professionalism in the industry and as you can see, there are many reasons to wear each piece of a chef’s uniform. Of course, you want to please the head chef or follow company policy but you also want to make sure you are properly protected. Everything from the initial design, to the fabric, down to the stitching is used for a specific reason. Stay protected and look your best by choosing Clement Design USA for your next chef uniform.