The Gauls and Romans wore linen tablecloths, sometimes colored. Guests wore their own napkins that were placed near their sofas and used to carry the leftovers from their meals.
The importance of meals in the Judeo-Christian tradition contributed significantly to the development of the tablecloth.
It was in the Middle Ages that tablecloths became more important and were frequently used. They became objects of genuine veneration because they were a mark of nobility of Lords and were only shared with people of the same rank. Most of the tablecloths were decorated with embroidery and fringes. At the same time that simple tablecloths appeared, for example in some taverns, people wiped their hands on a long piece of cloth placed on the edge of the tablecloth.
The fifteenth century saw the emergence of the “touaille”, the ancestor of the napkin. This was a long strip of material more than 13 feet long, folded in two on a rod and glued to the wall like a towel. This was not used frequently.
The napkin as we know it today dates from the sixteenth century but was quite long. It was made of apricot linen and soon became popular.
By this time it was fashionable to fold tablecloths and particularly napkins in the form of birds, animals, and fruits. This tradition lasted more than 200 years.
Until the ninth century, tablecloths and napkins were usually apricots, a material with identical motifs woven in front and back, the name Damascus comes from the city with the same name in Syria. The silk damask was famous, exported from Persia and after Venice for a long time. It was then that the countries of northern Europe, lacking unrefined materials, invented the linen apricot, which was very popular until the early ninth century.
The arrival of cotton revolutionized the damask. Due to the softness of the material its production gradually became industrialized. The tradition of folding napkins gradually disappeared and size declined.
In the twentieth century, the color began to be used at the tables. At first, the tablecloths were pastel colors, to then go to dark and bright colors. The napkins also began to match or contrast with the tablecloths.
After a minimalist period, where the tablecloths and napkins once again became white, colors are again used on the tables.
The chefs, for the most part, wear this uniform almost every day of their lives: a cap, trousers, and a double Filipina. Although these uniforms are similar in the food service industry around the world, little is known about their history. However, the origin and reasons behind the chef’s traditional costume are interesting.
The design of the chef’s uniform almost in its entirety is related to the need. Filipina, for example, is double so that it can be inserted easily and hide the spots that can accumulate throughout the day; The double layer of cotton is also designed to insulate our bodies from the intense heat of the stove or accidental splashes of hot liquid. Even knotted cloth buttons were invented for a reason – cloth supports frequent washing and buttons survive the abuse they often have contact with pots, pans, and other heavy equipment. Although executive chefs often wear black pants, working chefs usually wear pants with black and white squares because they hide the spots better. The necks used today are simply aesthetic,
The traditional chef’s hat, or toque Blanche, is the most distinguished and recognizable of the uniform. It is said that by the sixteenth-century hats were already worn. The artisans of that period (including cooks) were often imprisoned, and in some cases executed because of their free thought.
To avoid persecution, some chefs took refuge in Orthodox churches and were hidden among the priests of the monasteries. There they wore the same clothes as the priests – including their high hats and long suits – except that the chef’s clothes were gray and the priests’ clothing was black.
It was not until the mid-1800’s that chef Marie-Antoine Carême redesigned the uniforms. Carême thought that white was the most appropriate color since it denotes cleaning in the kitchen; Also at this time she and her staff began to use the double Philippines. Carême also thought that the hats should be of various sizes, to distinguish chefs from chefs. The chefs started wearing tall hats and younger chefs wore shorter hats, type cap. Carême herself wore a hat that was 18 inches tall.
The folded pleats of a cap, which later became a feature of the chef’s hat, claim to have been added to indicate more than 100 ways in which a chef can cook an egg.
Escoffier also considered cleaning the chef’s uniform as very important and promoting professionalism. He encouraged his staff to keep uniforms clean and complete at work, and also to wear layers and ties while they were not working. Today many chefs around the world wear the same outfit that 400 years ago. Along with the other inventions in the 50’s were made up paper caps that could be discarded after getting dirty
The chef’s traditional uniform may be the standard for our profession, but it’s definitely not the law. Since the mid-eighties a legion of chef and cooks have begun to wear non-traditional suits, pants cotton and Filipino is increasingly replaced with denim and in some cases are stamped with peppers, flowers and school badges of the kitchen. While some chefs consider this new style as unprofessional, others use it because of the comfort and opportunity to express individuality through their clothes.
Today’s non-traditional uniforms are reminiscent of chef Alexis Soyer, author, inventor and chef of the Reform Club era in London. Soyer was known for having his entire wardrobe, including his work clothes, made by a tailor-made tailor. He wore hats as eccentric as red velvet berets, his Philippines often cut diagonally, with large lapels. He called his individualistic style “à la zoug-zoug” and the more his contemporaries made fun of him, the stranger his clothes were.
As a chef, I adhere to the traditional dress. The uniform and its history are part of our pride. On the other hand, I can also understand a chef’s desire to be expressive. These new uniforms have their place in certain establishments, the restaurants of today. After all, the kitchen is considered a form of theater. Like everything else the chef’s uniform continues to develop, who knows what the future holds in this regard? One thing is certain, however, the image of a cook, in a Filipino and a white cap, is recognized in the world as a professional, and we have our precursors to thank for this.
Free translation of an article originally published in “The National Culinary Review”, by Chef Joe George