Know Your Chef Hats

Have you ever stayed in a typical high-end hotel or been fortunate enough to see inside a traditional-style restaurant’s kitchen? If so, you may have also noticed a chef sporting a tall, white hat. These chef hats (called toques or sometimes toques blanches) are an essential part of a typical chef’s uniform, especially in high-end four and five-star hotels globally, along with a classic white chef’s jacket and black or small blue check trousers.

Chef’s toques are traditionally tall, white, and pleated, made of cloth that must be starched to stand tall, but more commonly made of paper these days. Due to the possibility of cross-contamination, a hat is a necessary component of a chef’s attire. It is thought that the toque originated from the stocking caps or cloth worn by French chefs at the time and that its wearing dates back to the early 1700s.

This article will teach you more about this type of hat.

What Is a Chef Hat or Toque?

This classic tall hat was worn by the world’s palaces, top four and five-star hotels, and residences. When most people think of a chef and imagine how they should look, only one thing comes to mind: the tall hat or toque worn by godfathers of cuisine and many culinary legends.

There are several styles of this type of hat. The short forage-style paper hat, popular in fast food outlets and takeaways, is light, inexpensive, and designed to be used only once.

The traditional toque, used in most high-end restaurants and hotels, is also made of paper but is much more durable and classic. It exudes authority and gives the impression that the wearer is in charge and knowledgeable.

The goyan is a shorter style chef hat, similar to the traditional toque but shorter in height, popular in Asian and Japanese restaurants.

The History of the Chef’s Hat

The color of the casque à mèche, the original cloth hats worn in France, typically indicated the wearer’s rank. It wasn’t until a chef named Boucher, the personal cook to a French gourmand, statesman, and Monsieur Talleyrand, the first French prime minister, insisted on all toques being white — to indicate cleanliness — that the color was standardized.

Jump ahead a few years, and legendary chef at the time, Marie-Antoine Carême, started wearing hats in the style we know today. With the popularity of Carême and the wearing of the taller hat, it became prevalent in the kitchens of restaurants, hotels, and the ‘nouveau riche’ of Paris. 

Marie-Antoine Carême is widely regarded as the person who standardized the chef’s uniform. Auguste Escoffier, another culinary legend, introduced it to London later in the century.

Uniforms are important in many occupations for various reasons, including giving or making a good impression, implying responsibility, and creating a sense of unity in the worksite. Chef hats help to denote seniority in the kitchen by conveying a sense of respectability while also providing practical safety considerations. A chef hat is among the most well-known in the world, and you can find it in kitchens worldwide.

The classic, tall white hat is more than just for show; it was originally designed to keep hair out of food. Because it was uncommon for women and men to cut their hair in the 16th and 17th centuries, many men had long hair.

This often meant that as people got older, their hats got taller to accommodate their longer hair. The taller the hat, the older the chef, with the tallest and oldest being the head chef.

There is always a narrative to counteract the original wherever there is a tale about when something was invented or conceived. If you fish around long enough, you’ll find a story that dates long before French chefs adopted the wearing of these tall hats. 

One popular legend claims that the Byzantine Empire infiltrated Greece around 146 BCE. When the invasion forces arrived, Greek chefs fled to neighboring monasteries for safety, eventually dressing up in local uniforms and the monks’ outfits to blend in.

a smiling female chef standing in commercial kitchen and leaning on the counter while wearing her uniform and a chef hat

A large stovepipe hat was included. Even after they drove the Byzantines out, Greek chefs wore the hats as a symbol of rebellion and a show of solidarity. This is believed to have been observed by other chefs, prompting those chefs, including the French, to incorporate the hats into their uniforms.

Another story takes place in the 16th century and involves the English monarchy. According to legend, King Henry VIII beheaded a personal chef after discovering a hair in his evening meal. The following chef was commanded to wear a hat while cooking; thus, using hats within Royal palaces to maintain hygiene began.

However, some stories claim that chefs wore hats to show their status as early as the 7th century A.D. They were specifically given hats to compensate for any mistreatment they were experiencing, as this was when chefs seemed to be consistently poisoning kings who dismissed them! While these stories may be equally likely (or unlikely) to be the origins of the chef’s hat, they represent the accessory as it is used today: both a symbol and a tool.

Tall hats are still worn in high-end hotels today, with the different heights indicating status within the kitchen brigade system. The senior kitchen brigade member or head chef’s toque is frequently the tallest.

Although still advised from a food safety standpoint, wearing hats generally is no longer popular in many smaller standalone restaurants, and the concept of seeing a full brigade in hats and whites is often not seen. Those who wear head coverings and hats are usually pretty strict about it, and it becomes appropriate attire, which is also more in line with the traditional look.

The headwear worn by today’s kitchen staff and brigades is quite varied and is heavily influenced by the style, size, and leadership of the restaurant or kitchen. Whether bareheaded or wearing a baseball cap or a bandana, today’s trendy chefs have chosen to forego the toque to express their individuality.

What Do the Pleats on a Chef Hat Indicate?


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A post shared by Richard Ekkebus (@rekkebus)

The amount of pleats in a chef hat has the same origin as the chef hat’s height. It was once said that the number of pleats in a chef’s hat represented the number of recipes or techniques the chef had mastered.

If the chef hat had 100 pleats, that chef had perfected 100 recipes. In modern times, the number of pleats is arbitrary and serves no purpose other than to maintain the classic design of the toque.


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