Working in a commercial kitchen is much different than it was centuries ago when Escoffier paved the way for professional chefs everywhere.
With modern equipment, air conditioned kitchens, and technology that allows the cook to see exactly what guests have ordered without speaking to anyone, a lot has changed.
What hasn’t changed however, is the fact that a uniform is almost universally worn in high-end kitchens, and even small diners. It’s a symbol of the industry and the professionalism in it. There are many parts to the uniform, and while like every other aspect of the industry, it has gotten better over time, it’s still made up of the same parts, with the same basic functions — to keep the chef safe in a hot kitchen.
An essential part of the traditional chef uniform is the chef jacket. It has been used for centuries, and is often what differentiates a cook and a chef.
Those new to the industry may think that a chef’s jacket is nothing more than a way to distinguish yourself in the kitchen, and while this is true, it is only partly so. A chef’s jacket, like every piece and part of the uniform, serves several purposes, mostly involved in keeping the wearer safe from harm in a potentially dangerous environment.
First and foremost, a chef’s coat is designed to keep the chef safe. It is made of high quality, double thick cotton, usually fire resistant.
If you’ve worked in a professional kitchen, especially a larger one with many people working all at once, you know that dangers abound. For one thing, a restaurant kitchen is a fast paced environment. The goal is to cook delicious food and get it to patrons fast. Doing this means you could easily bump into another chef, get too close to a hot flame, or open a pot lid too quickly and be met with a burst of hot steam. While a chef’s jacket isn’t an invisible shield to completely protect you from injury, it can do a fine job making sure that your sleeve doesn’t catch on fire or that the steam hits your jacket instead of your skin. The thick fabric can prevent a sharp tool from tearing the jacket and your skin, and it can prevent boiling hot liquids from giving you serious burns.
Like all pieces of the uniform, a chef’s jacket is designed for keeping you safe.
Because the kitchen is busy and fast paced, you can bet you’re going to spill food on yourself on a regular basis. A traditional chef’s coat is double breasted, with two rows of buttons down the front. This means that if you spill something on yourself, but find that you need to leave the kitchen, you can simply unbutton the coat and switch the stained layer with the fresh, clean layer. The thick fabric ensures that the bottom layer is stain free, so no one has to know that you’ve got marinara or gravy stains on your jacket. If you don’t do a lot of messy cooking, single breasted jackets are also available.
Of course, there’s more to safety when it comes to the chef’s uniform. It also signals that the wearer is a professional that takes his career seriously. It’s no secret that the restaurant industry employs a significant number of people, but not all of them are serious about their work.
A bright white chef’s jacket lets the world, and your employer, know that you are not just trying to flip burgers until you start your real career; cooking is your real career, and you’re proud of it.
Choosing the Right Chef’s Jacket
Now that you know why you need a chef’s jacket, how are you supposed to know which one you need?
Everyone is different, and these days, no two chefs are alike. There are many choices and styles of jackets to choose from, including Chef Works Cool Vent Technology, which keeps the wearer cool and comfy for hours in a hot kitchen.
While styles and colors are up to the individual and his employer, there are some rules that everyone buying a chef’s jacket should follow.
- Buy the highest quality jacket you can afford. Like every product available these days, you can buy a cheap, inferior chef’s jacket, but it will look cheap, and probably won’t perform the most important duty of keeping you safe. In addition, jackets and other uniform pieces made of inferior materials are often itchy and uncomfortable, which can be distracting when you’re trying to get dinner service going.
- Buy a jacket that fits. While you may think it’s more comfortable to buy a bigger jacket, loose fabric and sleeves that are too long are asking for accidents. Also, an ill fitting jacket just doesn’t look as professional. If you’re a woman, make sure to buy a jacket that is designed for a woman for the best fit.
- Care for your jacket properly. This means treating stains right away if possible (of course, in a busy kitchen, this may not be easy). Even though you may be tired after a long shift, take your jacket off and hang it up to prevent wrinkles. Wash your jacket only as necessary to prolong the fabric, and wear an apron to prevent permanent stains.
- Consider embroidering your restaurant logo on your jacket if you’re sure you’re not going anywhere anytime soon, or you are the owner of the restaurant. You can also simply embroider your name if you’re not sure where you’ll be in the future. This small step is an extra expense, but it just emphasizes to potential employers and anyone in the industry that you take your job seriously and that you’re in it for the long haul.
- Buy your jacket from a reputable manufacturer of chef uniforms and other professional cooking related products, such as Chef Works. You’ll know that your jacket was designed with professional cooking in mind, and everything from the fabric, to the styling, to the wearability are all made for someone that’s going to spend time in a hot kitchen.
- Buy an extra jacket if funds allow. Your jacket will get spilled on, pulled, and maybe even burned. Having an extra jacket on hand allows you to seamlessly continue working with a simple switch of coats. It’s also handy to be able to treat a stain immediately, increasing the chances of it coming out. You don’t have to spend a fortune if you don’t have it; simply having a backup that’s a little less expensive will help preserve your main jacket that much longer.
You may think that a chef’s jacket is an outdated tradition worn by stuffy classical chef’s, but if you’re serious about the profession, your career, and the your safety, you should rethink your position.
A chef’s jacket offers many benefits, starting with protecting you from severe injury, and ending with showing the world how professional you are. It’s a must have in high-end kitchens, and if you plan on working in a popular restaurant in a large city, you should get used to the idea of wearing one. Once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever thought you’d get by without it.