As you know, the classic Chef Uniform is a complex combination of usefulness and profound respect for tradition. Rooted in the decorum of 200-year-old French Cuisine, each part of the uniform has a role to play. The huge toque was meant to keep sweat off your brow and keep you head cool. The double-breasted shirt protects the chef from heat or spills. The aprons serve both as protection and impromptu oven mitt. Each item has a function, or should we say, used to have a purpose. Do today’s Chefs continue to honour the traditional uniform?
Looking at some of the most reputable female Chefs in New York City, we can see that it entirely depends on the individual.
Cooking her upscale Mexican dishes, Daniela Soto-Innes usually wears a white short-sleeve shirt, not necessarily double-breasted, and sporting a tipped collar. Her apron, worn over the head rather than simply tied at the waist, is black. Chef Soto-Innes is not a fan of the traditional high toque; no such thing is found on her head.
Her colleague and recipient of several Michelin awards, April Bloomfield, wears a traditional chef shirt that has a more conventional round collar. She also favors short sleeves. Her apron, full size in length, is stripped. Once again, gone is the toque, no hat for April.
Amanda Cohen, manager of a vegetarian restaurant, can be seen wearing a cross between a traditional chef shirt and something more modern. Her short sleeves shirt has a tipped collar rather than a round one. Did you know that in her restaurant, there are no tips? She prefers paying her employees higher wages. Same as her colleagues, there are no hats in sight in Amanda’s kitchen.
Suchanan Aksornnan, a specialist in mixing Spanish and Asian cuisine into wonderful dishes, wears a somewhat traditional uniform that is entirely black, apron as well. Her shirt is double breasted and the collar is round. Her apron is black and contrary to her colleagues, she wears a black chef’s cap.
Our final chef is Angela Dimayuga who wears a short-sleeves, tipped collar white shirt covered with a white apron. She is the only chef to wear a more traditional white hat that is significantly shorter than the tall toque.
It is always interesting to discover NYC chefs in their restaurants and learn about their stories. They each bring a unique flavor to the Big Apple.
From our observations, it appears that the traditional Chef Uniform is changing, evolving, especially for the women of the field. The most obvious item to gradually disappear is the tall white toque. It is replaced with riders’ cap, black or white Asian caps, shorter toques, caps with short lids facing forward or backward, or black mesh lids. Despite the historical signification of the piece, the white toque is almost completely gone and it is doubtful it will ever make a comeback into New York kitchens. Some of you might be nostalgic about the loss, but ultimately, it will not affect the quality of the food.