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The History of the Chef Hat

The History of the Chef Hat
The chef's hat. Is there any sartorial accoutrement more recognizable than that tall white chapeau that looks like nothing so much as one of those socks they put on a rack of lamb after they cook it and present it to the dining table? I'm a bit of a chef myself and I have always wanted to get a chef's hat. But with the Bush/McCain gasoline tax, well, who's got money to spend on such things. Nevertheless, my desire for a chef's hat got me to wondering one day when I was watching a cooking show on TV just exactly what is the point of the chef's hat and what is its history. The chef hat actually has a name: toque blanche. What does toque blanche mean? Get ready, okay, because this knock your socks. Toque blanche is French for "tall white hat." The question of just how far back the chef hat, or toque blanche, goes is up for grabs. There are several expeditions you can take, depending upon whether you are merely Hernando De Soto or Magellan himself. One thing that is known for certain, pretty much, is that that the chef hat was created not for its sartorial resplendency, but for a much more utilitarian reason. I don't care what kind of food you like, whether you enjoy seafood or Mexican food or Chinese food or soul food or meat and potatoes: nobody likes custom embroidered hat to pull a stray hair that is a different color or length from out of their mouth. The tall white hat that chefs wear was created for the purpose of keeping hair out of food. No successful restaurateur ever allowed hair from atop his pate to fall into the food he was preparing on a regular basis. So, well, there's that.
As for the history, there is a fairly romantic tale of persecution at the hands of the Catholic Church in which chefs sought sanctuary inside the safe confines of the Orthodox Church which was kinder to freethinkers than the Vatican. Supposedly, or so the story goes, the chefs took (toque) to wearing the same kind of tall hats as the Orthodox priests. The only difference, which seems to make this story perhaps as apocryphal as the story that Kim Kardashian is famous for possessing a talent, is that the chefs richardson baseball hats wore tall hats that were gray while the priests wore black. If the chefs really were trying to go undercover, why would they wear a different color and why would the priests even have hats of another color anyway?
In the 1800s a chef named Marie Antoine Carme took a look at the ugly gray chef hat and came to the conclusion that the color white would be far more appropriate because white would serve as a better sign of how clean the kitchen really was. Too much grease and grime could be lost in the steely dull grayness of what was then the traditional chef hat and so, in an instant, the toque blanche was born. It was also Carme who decided that the height of the hat would denote the place of each chef in the hierarchy within the kitchen. The top chefs wore the tallest hats and the apprentices barely had any height at all. You may have also have taken notice of the pleated design of the chef's hat. There is also a legend that the reason why a traditional chef hat has 100 pleats is that it is supposed to represent the fact that no chef worth his salt would not know how to prepare an egg at least 100 different ways. Timothy has published two novels and contributed chapters to S. View profile
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