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What Are the Most Commonly Used Types of Chef Hats?

a chef hat

One of the first things you think of when you picture a Chef is the traditional tall, white hat that’s called a “toque”. In Arabic, that simply translates to “hat”.

While this is a common headwear option for the role, there are other Chef hats you’ll often encounter in a restaurant setting. Let’s look at their use throughout history and list the most common types of hats that are worn by Chefs today.

The History of Chef Hats

There are many theories about how Chef hats originated. Many of them suggest that Marie-Antoine Carême, a leading French Chef in the 19th century, came up with the concept.

Another famous theory is that King Henry VIII found hair in his meal and beheaded his Chef, after which he ordered all other Chefs to wear a hat.

Whatever the true origin story is, Chef hats have always been used to keep hair out of food and aid in maintaining hygiene in the kitchen.

For centuries, Chef hats were also worn as a sign that an individual had graduated from a culinary school and had various culinary achievements. This was usually denoted by the pleated toque crowning their head.

Back then, the number of pleats represented how many techniques the Chef had mastered, often reaching one hundred or more. Only Chefs who sat at the top of the kitchen hierarchy wore them while others often wore skull caps.

In the fast-paced environment of the modern culinary industry, this concept is somewhat lost. Chefs rarely have time to tweak their toques and the role of hats has shifted to focus more on hygiene and safety rather than symbolism. Additionally, new types of Chef hats have been introduced and they’ve all but replaced the traditional toque.

With that said, let’s look at the most commonly used types of Chef hats and discuss their benefits.

Traditional Chef Hats

As mentioned above, some Chef hats have been around for a very long time and continue to be worn in modern restaurant kitchens even today.

Chef toque

A toque is the most traditional Chef hat there is. It’s still used in many kitchens, especially those in high-end restaurants and hotels.

Usually made from cotton, polyester, or poly-cotton blends, the Chef Toque is distinctive by its tall, stiff and pleated look.

Traditionally, it was used to mark seniority in the kitchen and it’s still worn mostly by those occupying the Executive Chef role.

chef wearing a toque

Chef beret

The beret is similar to the toque in both looks and the fact that it has been worn by Chefs throughout history.

However, this hat has less weight and volume to it. It usually comes with small holes around the sides that help the Chef keep their head cool in a hot kitchen environment.

Skull cap

The skull cap dates way back to ancient times but it didn’t become a trend in kitchens until the late 20th century. As kitchen environments became busier, Chefs needed something that was both comfortable and functional.

It offers a clean-cut look and features an elastic band to fit all head sizes. Many skull caps also feature a mesh top that ensures air circulation in hot kitchens.

Since it’s viewed as a less formal hat than the toque, it’s rarely worn by Executive Chefs. Instead, it’s a popular choice among Pastry Chefs and Bakers, as well as those in the Line Cook role.

Modern Chef Hats

In recent years, more modern versions of the Chef hat have emerged. They’re typically worn in casual and fast-food restaurants.

Chef beanie

A Chef beanie is another informal piece of Chef headwear that has been adopted in kitchens in recent years. It looks similar to the skull cap, but it’s looser and slouchier.

In kitchens with multiple Chefs, you’ll often see the Executive Chef wearing a toque and others wearing Chef beanies.

While most Chef hats are either white or black, beanies can vary in color to match the restaurant’s brand and uniforms.

chef wearing a beanie

Bandana

Chef bandanas are another versatile option for those working in hot kitchen environments. They’re excellent in absorbing sweat and can easily be tied into a neckerchief to prevent sweat dripping down the wearer’s neck.

They’re seen as a modern replacement to the skull cap and are most likely to be encountered in cafes, casual restaurants and food trucks.

Baseball cap

Baseball caps have emerged as a casual option for Chefs in fast-food restaurants. They’re lightweight and easy to wash.

The baseball cap helps protect the Chef’s vision from bright overhead lighting and sunlight in open environments. However, you can often see a Chef wear it backwards, to prevent heat from moving towards their face.

They typically have a hook-and-loop design at the back, so they’re easy to adjust to any head size.

Specialty Chef Hats

Some Chef hats are worn only in specific types of restaurants and serve to help create a specific ambiance or better adjust the Chef attire to the environment they work in.

Headband

A headband is another hat option for Chefs in some specialty restaurants. For example, you’ll often see Sushi Chefs wear a traditional Japanese headband called “hachimaki” as it adds to the overall ambiance of the restaurant.

They’re also a popular option in fast-food and other casual restaurants.

Since they’re made from moisture-wicking fabrics, they’re great for absorbing sweat as well.

chef wearing a headband

Chef visor

Although rarely featured in traditional kitchens, visors are worn by Chefs operating barbecue stations, food trucks and other outdoor environments.

They’re lightweight and protect from sun glare without trapping any heat inside. Additionally, they’re easily adjustable and fit all head sizes.

Although a viable option for Chefs, visors are usually worn by lower-ranking kitchen staff members.

Pastry Chef cap

Pastry Chef caps are shorter than traditional Chef toques and have a flat top. You may also often see them feature a short brim.

They’ve been designed to combine comfort and functionality, which is important when working with desserts.

Over the years, this Chef hat has become associated with the Pastry Chef position and it serves to represent their role in the kitchen.

How to Choose the Right Chef Hat

When it comes to choosing a Chef hat, it’s important to consider the restaurant’s overall ambiance and dress code. You can talk to the Restaurant Manager and find the right fit together.

Another important thing to take into consideration is how functional the hat is. You want something that allows you to move around freely and offers enough airflow.

Since mess is inevitable in a kitchen setting, try to find something that’s machine-washable and stain-resistant.

Keep in mind that the Chef hat can also serve as an extension of your personal style and aid in your branding in the culinary world. Some Chefs even have their hats custom made to include their name or something that helps create a distinctive identity.

Overall, your choice should enhance your professionalism, fit the overall vibe of the restaurant and promote a safe and hygienic kitchen environment.

FAQs

Traditionally, Chef hats were tall to symbolize their skill level and rank in the kitchen hierarchy.

One of the pioneers of the culinary industry, Marie-Antoine Carême, chose white as the main color of the Chef uniform to signify cleanliness.

All kitchen staff members often wear hats to follow kitchen hygiene policies and prevent hair and sweat from falling into meals.

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