Culinary Uniforms – Why Do Chefs Wear White Coats?

A great way for your restaurant kitchen to have a professional look is the wearing of chef uniforms, with all their frenzied cutting and frying while rushing to complete a customer’s order. Imagine the look of your favorite cooking shows while your famous chefs prepare some delectable meal. In the eyes of a spectator, the frenetic dash of activities of individuals in white seems so fascinating and more appealing as compared to not wearing any uniform at all.

But why does a chef wear a white coat? What is the purpose behind a chef’s white culinary uniform?

chef in coat and hat in kitchen preparing food with fireThe traditional chef’s uniform, also known as chef’s whites, is the standard uniform in the Western World. It includes a white hat or toque blanche, white double-breasted coat, and a black and white patterned pants. The clothing originated in 1822 when Marie-Antoine Careme, a French artist and chef, made a preliminary design called “Le Maitre d’Hotel Francais.” Portrayed in the drawing are two chefs wearing a white hat, double-breasted jacket, trousers, and an apron. The “uniform” however only become popular in the culinary world around 1878.

The color white is deliberately chosen for the overall chef’s uniform. It is to give the gourmet cook and all other staff in the kitchen a semblance of power and influence since white is a highly effective symbol of cleanliness and flawlessness. However, this is not the only reason why chefs wear white coats. There are two significant aspects of cooking in white on which your favorite chefs depend.

First, the hue or tone of the color white is good at deflecting heat, which provides the chef and all other staff additional safeguard against open fire, stoves and other heated appliances in the kitchen. The second advantage for the chef’s white coat is the belief that white is associated with cleanliness and sanitary conditions. Certainly not that it is the most efficient color for camouflaging unfortunate food stains.

The double-breasted design of the chef’s coat, two rows of buttons designed down the front, also has a functional purpose. After all the splatters and stains of preparing your multi-course connoisseur meal, the chef has the option to unbutton his coat and just reverse it to hide the spots and spills when they are required to receive kind comments on their patrons’ meals. The chef’s appearance of being neat and clean is maintained despite all the messy dishes, gravies and other food that stains when prepared in the kitchen.

An authentic chef coat includes cloth buttons and even that serves its purpose. The double-knotted cloth buttons in the double-breasted chef jacket are used because they can withstand repeated washing better than their plastic or metal counterparts. The cloth buttons are also used to protect against plastic buttons being melted or disfigured because of intense heat.

Your traditional chef uniform also consists of a large triangular cloth worn around the neck. The necktie was formerly worn to absorb perspiration during those times where modern air conditioning was still not at hand. It later became decorative, since contemporary kitchens are now air conditioned. However, some still wear them to pay homage to the symbol and tradition of their trade.

Nowadays, chefs have personalized uniforms with added colors and patterns, even changes in designs. Although, it is still a widely accepted tradition to see a chef wear his or her white coat as her standard uniform.