When it comes to cooking, everything has a tradition. From techniques, to cooking styles, to uniforms and tall hats. And even though we’ve come to get used to them, the question remains: why on earth do chefs wear those silly hats?
OK, let’s start with the obvious: chefs wear hats so you won’t discover a hair in your wonderfully prepared dish. Legend has it that when king Henry the VIII found a hair in his soup, he beheaded the chef and asked for his replacement to always wear a hat in order to prevent any further issues. But why tall hats?
Well, as it turns out, it all has to do with the rank of the wearer. (the article continues after the ad)
Simply said, the height of the hat signifies the rank in the kitchen – just like papal hats represent class and standing. This is why the chef, since it’s the highest ranking in any kitchen, wears the tallest one. This tradition started in France in the early 1800s when legendary chef Marie-Antoine Carême decided that his chefs should have a uniform. He chose white as the preferred color as it signifies cleanliness and called for all his kitchen personnel to wear a toque (hat) with different heights indicating the different ranks. Rumor has it that Carême’s toque was 18 inches (45cm) long and, in order to keep it standing, the hat had to be reinforced by cupboard.
The pleats of the hat also have a rich history. The idea is that the more experienced the chef, the more pleats on his hat. There was a time that a chef’s hat had 100 pleats which signified the 100 known ways of preparing eggs. Today, chef pleats reflect a chef’s level of experience.