Friday, February 05, 2010

Why do chefs wear the tall hats?

¡Que Aprovecho! reader Maria asked:
Why do some chefs where these toques? Is there a reason they're so tall? Do they need to store eggs in them, ala I Love Lucy? I've always wondered about this. Maybe you can shed some light?
Good question, and thanks for submitting it. Your reference to hiding eggs as in I Love Lucy actually has a connection to the history of the toque blanche. Here's an excerpt from the Website
Chefs as far back as the 16th century are said to have worn toques. During that period artisans of all types (including chefs) were often imprisoned, or even executed, because of their freethinking. To alleviate persecution, some chefs sought refuge in the Orthodox Church and hid amongst the priests of the monasteries. There they wore the same clothes as the priests-including their tall hats and long robes-with the exception of one deviating trait: the chef's clothes were gray and the priest's were black.

It wasn't until the middle 1800's that chef Marie-Antoine Carême redesigned the uniforms. Carême thought the color white more appropriate, that it denoted cleanliness in the kitchen; it was also at this time that he and his staff began to wear double-breasted jackets. Carême also thought that the hats should be different sizes, to distinguish the cooks from the chefs. The chefs wore the tall hats and the younger cooks wore shorter hats, more like a cap. Carême himself supposedly wore a hat that was 18 inches tall! The folded pleats of a toque, which later became an established characteristic of the chef's hat, were first said to have been added to indicate the more than 100 ways in which a chef can cook an egg.
 Every chef at the California Culinary Academy wears a toque in class and around school. Every student is required to wear the small cap, call a commis, along with the full uniform when in class and on campus.

1 comment:

  1. That is fascinating! Who knew?! Thanks for sharing this, Michael! Always learning from this blog!