Part of what makes being a chef so fascinating is the tradition involved in working in a kitchen. From the techniques being used to prepare the dishes to the uniform and chef apparel being worn, everything has its place in history. Stepping behind the line of a kitchen can be a thrilling (and sometimes scary) experience, but knowing that you form part of a tradition that goes back over 2 000 years could certainly offer some inspiration to the most discerning of cooks. One of the most fascinating and quintessential parts of any chef’s uniform is the chef hat, which itself has a long and illustrious history.
How the Chef’s Came into Being0
As legend would have it, chefs in Assyria wore crown-like hats to differentiate themselves from the rest of the kitchen help. The reason behind this is a lot darker than imagined as during this time, disgruntled chefs began poisoning kings. In order to make them feel special and hopefully to eliminate the desire to poison the king, they were offered a unique chef’s hat. Chefs were also known for the amount of time they spent reading, whether to learn new recipes or techniques. Since being literate during this time was uncommon, chefs were considered ‘learned’ men. Unfortunately, being smart was not considered a positive characteristic and many chefs were persecuted. Chefs then sought refuge in the Greek Orthodox Church where they dressed in traditional monk garb, including caps, which would evolve into the chef hats we are familiar with today.
Another, even more gory theory is that during the era of Henry the VIII, t after finding hair in his soup, the king beheaded the cook. His replacement was therefore politely asked to wear a hat to prevent any further incidents. These days, the more convenient but less glamourous hair net is often used to prevent stray hairs from ending up on a customer’s plate.
What About the Pleats?
The pleats featured on chef hats are also steeped in history and is said to stem from the idea that each pleat represents the experience a chef has in the industry. Therefore, the more experience a chef has, the more pleats his hat had. A pleat could also signify a recipe or technique that a chef has mastered. At one point in history, the number of pleats represented the ways in which a chef knew how to prepare eggs. These days, while hats don’t feature as many pleats as it did in the past, it does signify a chef’s level of experience.
The Chef Hat’s Place in Modern Times
These days, chef hats remain a symbol of knowledge, experience and authority and few pieces of headgear are as prominent or recognisable as this traditional tall, white hat. While many chefs still embrace the idea of a chef’s hat, it is more common to wear paper versions of the classic cloth hat, non-traditional hats or even no hat at all.