While there are many occupations that have people wearing uniforms, there is perhaps none more impressive than that of chef. Overseeing a kitchen wearing their impressive white uniform, chefs command a level of respect and awe found in few other occupations. Throughout history, chefs in famous restaurants, little-known cafes, and even palaces of royalty have been viewed not as cooks, but as artists who can take their ingredients and use the kitchen as their canvas, creating masterpieces that are both eye-catching and delectable. However, even though chefs have worn white for hundreds of years, few people know the fascinating history behind the uniform. First made famous in France about two hundred years ago by famous chef Marie-Antoine Careme, he first wore the uniform while cooking for French royalty. Often referred to as the "Father of the Chef Uniform," he made the uniform so popular that it rapidly spread to other parts of Europe, where it continued to gain fame thanks to the extraordinary chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. As the look became more popular due to its style and functionality, it found its way to Asia and the Americas, where it continued on its path to historical significance.
A Very Hot Kitchen
As anyone who has been in a kitchen can attest, things can get a bit hot from time to time. As a result, it's always best to wear clothing that will keep you as cool as possible. In fact, that's one of the reasons behind why chefs wear white uniforms. Since white is a very reflective color, it's much more likely to repel heat rather than absorb it. Because of this, busy chefs can stay cool while creating culinary masterpieces. Along with helping them stay cool, chefs also wear white due to its ability to be easily washed. Needless to say, when working in a kitchen things can get messy. However, with the chef's uniform, the cotton jacket can be very easy to clean. Since it's made of cotton and can be easily bleached, when it's laundry time chefs have nothing to worry about when it comes to getting even the toughest stains out of their jackets. Therefore, no matter how many new colors may be on their jacket, chances are when it's removed from the laundry it will look as good as new.
Power and Prestige
Along with its many functional advantages, the chef's uniform is also a very important symbol of power and prestige. Because head chefs have been held in extremely high regard as far back as the 16th-century, the white uniform has been expected to uphold the tradition. Thus, a large amount of symbolism is built around the white uniform of a chef. For example, since chefs have very high levels of cooking skills and techniques, the white uniform has been viewed throughout history as symbolizing authority, significance, and cleanliness. Also, because other highly-skilled occupations such as doctors wear white coats as part of their uniform, chefs are able to be seen by others as properly trained individuals who have earned the right to wear the famed white coat.
Chef Uniform in Art History
Throughout the years, chefs have been portrayed in a variety of ways. Whether painted to portray a picture of power and prestige, a professional hard at work creating their next great dish, or as a person proud of their profession, the portraits have displayed chefs in many distinctive ways. As the years have gone by, both male and female chefs have been immortalized in portraits. For example, one of the most famous chef portraits was created by Sir William Orpen. Called "The Chef of l'Hotel Chatham," it showcased the power, prestige, and pride a chef takes in his kitchen. Another famous chef painting was created by Rex Whistler, who chose to paint Sergeant Isaacs of the Welsh Guards. Titled "The Master Cook," this portrait attempted to show not only the prestige of the chef, but also the seriousness of the position. Shown sitting in his crisp white uniform, Sergeant Isascs displays complete command of his kitchen, symbolizing all that encompasses a professional chef. And finally, female chefs are well represented as well. One of the most entertaining and beautiful portraits was created by Francis Edwin Hodge, showing a female hard at work in her kitchen. Titled "The Arts Club's Woman Chef," it was created in 1935 and is a beautiful display of a woman wearing the famed white chef hat and white apron.
Whether it was in the 16th-century or today's fast-paced world, it's easy to see why the chef has remained one of the most beloved figures throughout history. From the early chefs who cooked for royalty to today's chefs who cook on television, people everywhere will continue to associate the white chef's uniform with dignity, respect, and great cuisine.