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  • Writer's picturegfmeade7


There is a great history to chef uniforms that led to what became the norm until relatively recently. The traditional stereotype image is of an all dressed in white portly chap with a floppy white hat, necktie, rosy cheeks and curling moustache. I am not sure I have ever met anyone fitting this cartoonish description but it certainly has become the go to graphic for any logos or branding images.

The chef jacket has a double breasted military design as the first large kitchen formats were organized along the ranks of the army in order to have the precision to cope with cooking all those meals in a limited time period. Hence a team of chefs is called a brigade. It also offered protection from spills having two layers of heavy cotton for hot sauces or soups to penetrate. The white colour comes from simply being hygienic and able to show any stains just like the medics and scientists.

When I started out white uniforms were standard but in my time the chef uniform has morphed into something that is nothing less than what a pot washer or cleaner would be wearing. A baseball cap, tee shirt, apron, tracksuit bottoms and trainers is what I often see now and that is a sure sign of a sad decline in what is a profession with a long honourable tradition of attire. The reason there was always long sleeves was simply to prevent burns to the arms. The necktie was to gather all that sweat from unventilated kitchens burning coal fired ovens.

The other issue is that white is now replaced with any colour under the sun, first the jackets were black and then that opened up the full spectrum of hues. The longest I have seen a black jacket worn for without it being washed was a full month and it was reeking by then of food and body odours. Kitchens can be messy places to work but the good kitchens are very clean and chefs there will work really conscientiously.

In France you will be judged by how dirty your white jacket and apron have become during a day’s work. The trainees at the end of the night will be splattered with stains from the whole menu and the senior guys will hardly have a blemish as they have learned to work without making unnecessary splashes or rubbing their hands on their whites. For particularly messy prep work like butchery or fish filleting then a long apron is allowed but come service time its whites all around.

The head chef will also have the tallest hat and longest apron sometimes down to their shoes to demonstrate rank. Of course there is no obligation on modern chefs to conform to old styles of dress but it is just another aspect of how trades move on and evolve. There are now cheffy fashion wars as to what is the trendiest look.

Food technology and creation has changed beyond all recognition too these days so it is inevitable that what this new generation wears must change too. Modern chefs are fitter too, watching their diets, working out in gyms and running marathons in their spare time. Drugs and heavy drinking disappointingly still play a part though in modern cooking.

I must admit however that I think in physical professions like cooking, building, farming or fishing where serious energy is burned up that extracurricular exercise has to be limited as the body can only take so much beating in a week even if it is a different type of workout. When I clocked up eighty hour weeks all I wanted to do was sleep. I once tipped a hundred hours and that was lights out in a heap for me.

The material used in uniforms now is much lighter and aerated too almost like an athlete so chefs cannot complain that outfits are too bulky. For long days one needs to be comfortable and kitchens are super air conditioned now so there should be no heavy sweating. I still would not cook in a tee shirt and trainers even if you paid me.

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