A chef’s hat was officially called a toque until the 1800s when it became known as a toque blanche or white hat. The hat’s height indicated the chef’s position and knowledge - the taller the hat, the more knowledgeable and higher ranking the chef was.
As the legend goes, white was chosen by the personal chef of Charles Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838) who served as the first French Prime Minister in 1815.
The theory as to why chefs wear hats dates back to 146 B.C. when the Byzantine Empire invaded Greece. Greek chefs fled to nearby monasteries and dressed up as monks to avoid being recognised – this
included wearing a large stovepipe hat. Afterwards, the Greek chefs continued to wear the hats as both a form of rebellion and a sign of solidarity - the tradition was later adopted by the French.
It has also been recorded that during the 7th century A.D., Assyrian kings feared being poisoned by a resentful chef so, in an attempt to keep on their good side, chefs were given hats similar to a kings’ crown (minus the jewels of course) to elevate the importance of their vocation.
Pleats also served a purpose! In the early days of the toque blanche, it is said that pleats would often represent how many recipes a chef had mastered, e.g. if a toque had 100 pleats, the chef would know 100
ways to serve an egg.
Today it is mostly skull caps, hair nets, or baseball caps that are worn with toque’s being limited to the more expensive restaurants, and even then, they are usually reserved for the kitchen elite; pleats still demonstrate the level of experience the wearer has.
Source: Smarter Every Day – facts, trivia, & general knowledge
Smarter Every Day
Elsmere is from Northern Ireland and has always had a passion for learning. He studied at the University of Ulster and graduated with a Master’s degree in Management and Corporate Governance.