Updated: Dec 15, 2020
The history of the Toque Blanche
Yule tide preparations have centred around food for centuries. Back in the day, King Henry VIII took feasting to a new level. Banquets were a celebration, created as works of art. Add to the mix new exotic tastes, food was important. He liked to explore new ideas and offer his guests unique flavours. Chef’s continue this tradition to this day. New combinations, celebrity chefs offer new dishes, gourmet dishes and supermarkets all strive produce some new cuisine.
The origin of a chef’s hat is surrounded by many stories. Poison is mentioned, death could be a consequence and the cleanliness of the kitchen a fact that intertwined into the rich dramatic history of this fine upstanding hat.
Right back to the seventh century, the Assyrian King was worried about being poisoned. The chef had the most opportunity to do this. As a precaution, the king gave the chef a special hat, similar to the royal household so he would feel more respect and allegiance to his king.
Medieval-kitchens were full of fat - open fires and animal cooking meant the ceilings were left with the congealed fats from the cooking. Sometimes these congealed messes would fall on the chef’s head. The hat was protection from this although nothing stopped this from dropping in the food!
A meal was served from King Henry VIII’s kitchen with a hair in the soup. The head chef was beheaded. The new replacement chef was very worried about his future, so began the wear a chef’s hat to keep hair out of the food.
Across the channel in France, hats had changed colour. In Britain the chef’s hat was black. La Toque Blanche was a brimless white hat. The pleats represented the skill of the chef. The more dishes he could cook the more pleats he had in this hat. Eventually, the chef’s hat had 100 pleats to show he could cook an egg in one hundred different ways.
The white chef’s Toque was not a uniform but a symbol of professional skills. The pleats represented the culinary skills of the chef while the height symbolised seniority. The head chef wore the tallest hat. In contrast today, hats are worn for the hygiene of the kitchen. A trend to shave the head has seen a reduction in the wearing of hats too.
As delicacies are shared over the festive period, families focus on their children. Rolling aromas float in the air, favourite festive recipes are created; creative energy fills the space. A repertoire of ‘old favourites’ mixed with the new.
See more in The Hat Channel Mag December 2020