Have you ever been watching television and seen a chef and wondered to yourself what was the deal with that long hat that they wear? While you’re more likely to find this cap on chefs’ heads at restaurants such as NOBU over the diner on the corner you go to for the best burger in NYC, these unique hats are the true signature of an experienced chef.
It’s a distinct look, to be sure. That hat that stretches up and up and looks very elongated with its little ridges can be seen on sous chefs working busily in fancy restaurants and in movies and television. Where did this accessory originate from– and who invented it?
Get ready, because we’re about to answer all of the questions you never even knew you had. Perhaps you’re studying to be a chef in school, work in some area of cooking, or are just curious about the culinary headwear. Well, like many things, the chef’s hat is steeped in both history and tradition. There are a few stories, but which is true?
One story surrounding the famous cap is that around the 7th century A.D., kings were being poisoned by their chefs. Apparently, the chefs did not feel that their talents were appreciated. Maybe the kings constantly changed their meal times and sent dishes back. Who knows? Regardless, it appears many a wounded chef took revenge through poisoning.
So, the kings decreed that the chefs shall receive a special hat. The lesson, apparently, is to always treat the cook with respect, lest he poison your food to show you who’s boss!
Another legend involves the infamous Henry the VIII. Henry the Eighth was rumored to find a hair in his dish. The offending cook was beheaded for his crime. Apparently, the guy who replaced him wore a hat to prevent this ever happening again, and the hat was born. Wouldn’t you?
Yet another legend of the art involves a tale of how chefs were considered very educated men. They spend all of their time studying their crafts and trying new recipes while experimenting with others. However, it was not very much a time to excel, so chefs took sanctuary in the Greek Orthodox Church. They dressed like the monks in the church, and the caps became chef’s caps.
Today the well-known chef’s hat is the tall, crisp white hats made out of cloth. These are called toques blanches. The French term translates to a brimless hat (toque), and white (blanche). In fact, the traditional hats that are so recognizable were actually invented in the nineteenth century by Marie-Antoine Carme.
This French chef decided that chefs needed a type of uniform, and white was the best choice as it symbolized cleanliness while working in the kitchen. The highest ranking chef would have the tallest hat, with chefs under him having hats of various heights. They would have 100 pleats as well, to stand for the amount of ways the chef had mastered preparing eggs.
Today, hats have changed some, but the toque blanche remains as part of culinary culture. It still embodies knowledge and mastered culinary skills. While they are not worn quite as often as you might think, the chef’s hat is a symbol of respect for the craft a chef practices– and the chef themselves. Hats off to that!