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The History of the Chefs Jacket!

It is the hardest thing to describe to someone, that feeling of putting on your chefs jacket. A mixture of pride and at the same time anticipation. The jacket makes you feel invincible. It’s like a superhero cloak. I still remember the faces of each new group of students who came back from the changing rooms with their new chefs jackets on for the first time. It’s imprinted in my brain. The pure excitement and joy shining through on their faces. They are always so proud to be wearing a chef’s jacket for the first time. This may be true for pilots and many other professions too, but the culinary students stands out for me! The jacket signifies that they are serious about their profession and career.

For many people the different parts of a chef’s jacket have never been explained. Why are they double breasted, why do they have buttons that pop open, why do they have little Mandarin collars, why are they mostly long sleeved and usually white? Why do they have badges on them?

The chef’s jacket is steeped in tradition. The original uniform dates as far back as 1822 when Marie-Antoine Careme, a popular French Chef, released “Le Maitre d’Hotel Francais” and is credited with developing the chef’s uniform. The uniform was designed to honour the chef as a profession. He wanted to create a form of dress that would professionalize the culinary arts to go along with his “high art” French cooking called “grande cuisine”. The chef’s hat or toque was already in use. In one of his many cooking books filled with recipes, menu plans, French culinary history and kitchen organizations, the sketch below was featured:


In his sketch titled, “Le Maitre d’Hotel Francais,” shows two chefs standing next to each other, wearing white hats, double-breasted coats, and aprons tied around the waist. This became the inspiration for French Chef Auguste Escoffier who is credited with creating the Brigade de Cuisine, also known as the Kitchen Brigade and professional kitchen staff roles.

Most culinary students still study these classically inspired kitchen teams today. Escoffier is credited with standardizing the uniform style and transforming the culinary world forever.

Traditionally the chefs’ jacket or coat was double breasted and made from a thick white cotton. Both Careme and Escoffier believed that white was the best colour to deflect heat, helping chefs to stay cool in a hot steamy kitchen. They thought that the food presented better against a white background and showed that the food was prepared in a safe and pristine environment.

I am often horrified when I see chefs wearing their chef jackets out in a public space, considering that surgeons never wear their scrubs out in public, neither should chefs. The hygiene and cleanliness of a chefs’ jacket is extremely important and whilst I am happy that chefs are very proud of their profession, chefs’ jackets should only be put on as they enter the kitchen protecting our food, the chef and customers from unhygienic sources.

The cloth that the jacket is made from is equally important. It should be thick and made of a cotton fabric, protecting the chef from the extreme kitchen heat whilst remaining breathable and absorbent. The long sleeves protect the wearer from cuts and burns. Interchangeable buttons have their own benefit. They do not chip or fall into the food whilst being prepared, preventing cross contamination and in the event of an accident, fire or spillage the buttons allow for the jacket to be literally ripped off one’s body. The double-breasted jacket provides double protection against hot spills, steam, hot oil, hot trays and any other kitchen hazards. The most useful design is when a spill occurs to simply switch the breast around to hide marks and ensure you are clean just in time for service. More recently some restaurants have opted for black and even multicoloured jackets, whilst white is coolest in a hot kitchen, modern jackets are now being made using superior material designed to keep the chef cool and safe in the kitchen.

Most chefs still wear the traditional houndstooth trousers, chosen specifically to hide spills and stains. The traditional long white apron is mostly for an additional layer of protection but is also designed to be removed quickly, hence the reason that it is usually tied in the front. Many chefs tuck a cleaning cloth on the side of their apron, convenient to have one at hand whenever needed. In years gone by, chefs would also wear their knives on them, however this trend is not seen any longer.

Did you know that different chef buttons are often used for different ranks in the kitchen? The traditional colour is black, but many culinary colleges have buttons in their college colour. The silver and gold buttons usually represent competitions or a higher ranking in the kitchen.

Chefs also have various badges embroidered onto their uniforms depicting a range of information. Many will have their home country badge as well as their name and kitchen title or position easily identifying their seniority in the kitchen. They may also have chef’s association badges and badges indicating competitions that they have entered and won.

The chefs jacket connects chefs around the world, it is worn with gusto as it holds much influence across the generations. Chef Andy is known for saying “Your Chefs uniform is your tuxedo – wear it with Pride!”

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