There is nothing more iconic and recognizable to the chef’s profession when thinking about chefs than the tall white hats. It also makes us wonder, why are they so tall, and what’s the story behind that? As a chef myself, I have the complete answer to that!
Chef hats, also known as toques are so tall because it represents the wearers rank in the kitchen hierarchy. The taller the hat, the higher the rank. Executive and head chefs use the tallest hats. In addition, the hat prevents hair from getting into the food, which increases cleanliness and quality.
Nowadays, not all restaurants and culinary schools use iconic tall hats because they are kind of unpractical and each chef and employee knows the hierarchy without showing it with long hats. However, you certainly can find them, especially in French restaurants.
Before continuing on the story of the white culinary hats, let’s go to the beginning and see where the idea of wearing such tall hats even began.
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The history of chef hats
Chef’s toque dates back all the way to the 19th century in France. Marie-Antoine Carême was a reputable French chef credited with being the father of the chef’s uniform, French cuisine, and as the first celebrity chef.
In the early 1800s. Marie-Antoine Carême decided that his chefs should have professional uniforms, and that is when it was born. Marie-Antoine Carême chose white as the uniform’s color because it represented cleanliness, and it was easily visible from the uniform.
This is when the toque comes in because he determined that each chef would wear a hat and its height represented their ranks and experience in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, chefs used head coverings before the tall toque was introduced, but they didn’t represent anything and were just meant to prevent hair from falling into the food.
The funny thing about chef’s hats is that they are so long that they need to be reinforced with a piece of cardboard inside the hat so it won’t fall. It is rumored that Marie-Antoine Carême’s toque was 18inches (46cm) tall, so it definitely needed it.
Nowadays, it’s hard to find toques that are taller than 12inches (30cm).
Why is a chef’s hat important
Chef’s hats are important for various reasons such as cleanliness and professionalism. It’s highly unprofessional and reputation demining if a customer finds hair from their food; therefore head needs to be covered with a hat. Also, long chef’s toques demonstrate rank and experience in the kitchen.
A legend says that King Henry the VIII beheaded his chef because he found hair from his soup. The replacing chef was told that he should wear a hat to prevent incidents like that further. Luckily, things aren’t handled in such a way in the modern world, but that’s an extreme example of someone caring about food’s hygiene and professionalism.
What do the folds in a chef’s hat mean
The folds, also known as pleats in the chef’s hat, mean how experienced the chef is, and the more pleats, the more experience. Originally, the folds in a chefs’ hat meant how many different ways they could prepare eggs, and the highest pleat number was 100.
If a chef wore a toque that is folded 100 times, they could prepare eggs in 100 different ways. However, nowadays, it is connected with the chef’s experience and skills, but the 100 pleats are still the highest honor a chef could earn.
This really depends on the restaurant whether they use such measurements in skill and experience but generally, the vast majority of restaurants don’t.
Why is a chef’s hat shaped the way it is
The important shapes in a chef’s hat are how tall and how many pleats it has. The height of the chef’s hat represents the wearer’s rank and authority in the kitchen hierarchy sytstem. The pleats represented ways to cook eggs and experience where 100 folds are the maximum amount.
Are chef hats still worn today
When it comes to the chef’s toque, it isn’t nearly as common to see them in chefs’ heads as it was in the 1800s and 1900s. However, many high-end and French cuisine restaurants still use them.
Chef hats, in general, are still used in most restaurants and should be used in all. The models and types of hats have only changed from toques to baseball caps and beanies, among other headcovers.
Chef hat alternatives
In addition to the chef’s toque, many chef’s headcovers or toque alternatives are used nowadays. Check out the list below but note that not all hats are approved in all restaurants.
For example, in a high-end fine dining restaurant, you probably aren’t permitted to use baseball caps, but in casual restaurants, it probably is.
What does a black chef jacket mean
Generally, restaurants might provide black chef jackets if they have an open kitchen, lunch buffets, or similar situations where chefs are clearly visible to the customers because stains aren’t so clearly visible. Also, it is a matter of preference, and it might be a means to designate groups of chefs.
In most cases, there aren’t any reasons for the color of their jackets but a preference of fashion. Personally, I totally understand that, and the cooking position would also affect my choice. For example, if I were to work at the grill, there would be much grease, odors, and potential stain risks, so I would choose a black jacket.
On the other hand, if I were to assemble dishes, make appetizers, or something not so dirty, I would definitely wear white because it resonates with the chef’s profession the best.
What do chefs wear under their coats
In short, chefs often wear t-shirts or sweat-repellant shirts that breathe well. Also, it’s common that chefs use loose shirts underneath their coats because it won’t be so sweaty, and it would let air through. Tank tops are also used in some cases. Finally, deodorant is highly advised.
In the end, there is only one reason why chef hats are so tall, and that is to show different ranks in the hierarchy system in the kitchen. If you want to learn more about commercial kitchens’ hierarchy system, I highly advise you to read my post about it, where I explain it quite in-depth.
All in all, I hope that you enjoyed this article and you found great value and information from it. At least, now you should have the ability to explain why chef’s hats are so tall when someone asks!