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The Culinary Fashion: Embracing Practicality

By admin | September 14, 2011

Photo: N A I T

By: Dylan Rodgers

During this month of fashion focus, I’d like to turn your extravagant, aesthetic-centered eye towards a fashionable get-up born from practicality and necessity.  Some have forgotten the importance of being fashionably practical with their skyscraping high-heels and pants sliding endlessly lower down the legs, making the simple act of walking an arduous task.  Focusing on function doesn’t have to produce drab, boring rags.  When done right, clothing can be a perfect medium between aesthetic and function­- a harmonic balance of fashion and uniform.  One shining example of this is the Chef’s Uniform.

Equipped with tall, ruffled hats, double-breasted coats, and small-patterned pants, chefs have dressed in a similar fashion for nearly 500 years.  Now I know what you’re thinking:  “Who could have devised such a beautiful yet practical uniform?  It would seem that God himself christened human’s head with a Hat of Babel!”  Believe it or not, God may have had something to do with it.

The legends of the toque, or the chef hat, are shrouded in mystery, but historians can seem to agree on a few possibilities.  During the 16th century, chefs were considered free-thinking ruffians, basically culinary hippies, and were often imprisoned or even executed for their ‘crimes’.  Using their free-thinking mental musculature some chefs sought refuge in the Orthodox Churches, hiding amongst the priests.  So where do you hide from close-minded belligerents?  Answer:  under a really tall hat.

The second possible origin of the toque is the sad lad unlucky enough to have dropped a hair in Henry VIII’s dinner.  His hair was swiftly chopped off, with the head attached to it, and from then on toques became regulation to anyone who wanted to live.

A little further down the chef, the thick cotton jacket insulates them from the intense heat of the burners and the grill.  The jackets were also designed double-breasted so when the front is covered in the residue of hard work, the chef can switch to the other side and look like he hasn’t touched a pan.  It’s like going from a disheveled looking painter to James Bond in a snap.

The pants, in a similar way, often have small patterns like checkers, hounds tooth, or chili peppers to make stains from the day blend in rather than yell out for attention.  And the neckerchief though fashionable, is really more like a sweat trap keeping the chef’s perspiration right where it should be: away from the food.

Every decision made in the creation of the chef’s uniform was in the name of function, yet it continues to be one of the most highly regarded, infamous “fashions” in existence.  Fashion in regard to design can be beautiful, but ingenuity in both function and form remains far more profound.

Photo: N A I T

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