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Why do chefs wear a uniform that is so distinctive?

There are many jobs that you associate with distinctive clothing; one of them is being a chef. We are all used to seeing chefs wearing their whites. The traditional chef’s uniform is a thick white jacket, a white hat known as a toque and black and white chequered trousers, although there are some variations of design in modern chef uniforms.

Today many chefs’ pants are plain coloured; some are even striped. They still tend to be mostly darker coloured to hide stains better and they are mostly baggy. This helps chefs to remain cooler when they are working in hot kitchens, as air can circulate within the trousers. In keeping with tradition, many chefs still wear the white jacket and toque which are so familiar.

The toque

The toque is the tall white hat that you will have seen many chefs wearing. The height of the hat is often used to indicate the seniority of the chef; the more senior the chef the taller the hat. It is said that the chef’s hat was originally modelled on hats worn by priests of the Orthodox Church. The original chefs’ hats were grey in colour; the white was introduced by Marie-Antoine Carême who was a chef in the early 19th century. He also introduced the idea of the height of the hat indicating the seniority of the chef.

The white jacket

A chef’s jacket is white for a number of reasons. It is easy to see when a jacket needs to be cleaned as all stains show up; although the thickness of a jacket means that it can be reversed once before cleaning. The colour white indicates cleanliness; an attribute that we all like to believe chefs have. As you can imagine, chefs’ jackets get stained quite often and the white colour means that they can be bleached back to pristine condition. This would not be the case if a different colour was used. A further reason for a chef’s jacket being white is that white reflects heat which helps keep a chef a little cooler in a really hot kitchen.

It’s not just the colour which makes a chef’s jacket distinctive. These jackets are also double thickness. This helps to protect the chef from getting hurt when boiling hot food and liquids are spilt and splashed.

As you can see, the chef’s uniform that we see today has been in existence for centuries, although it has evolved and become more modern looking over the years. The white colour elicits a sense of cleanliness which is always good in an environment where food is being prepared. There are also still many traditional elements to a chef’s uniform, such as the various heights of hat. Chef’s trousers have become more relaxed in style in recent years with many chefs opting for single colours rather than traditional check. That being said, chef’s trousers are still designed to allow plenty of movement and the flow of air in a hot kitchen.

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