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toque or chef's hat


Toque: French term for a chef's tall white hat. (pronouced 'tock')

Little is really known about the origin of the toque or chef’s hat. Today’s version is normally white, conical and quite tall in shape with as many as 100 pleats. The more pleats, the more qualified the chef. YG has discovered more about toques than you will ever want to know, but if anyone can contribute further, please tell us!

One story says the toque originated from the ancient Assyrians (Assyria is or was located in north Mesopotamia and spans four countries: In Syria it extends west to the Euphrates river; in Turkey it extends north to Harran, Edessa, Diyarbakir, and Lake Van; in Iran it extends east to Lake Urmi, and in Iraq it extends to about 100 miles south of Kirkuk.) During 1170 – 612 BC it was common to assassinate leaders using poison, so chefs were chosen carefully and treated well. A chef sometimes held quite a high rank in the King’s Court, which entitled him to wear a "crown" of sorts, in the same shape as the king's, though made out of cloth and without all the jewels. The crown-shaped ribs of the royal headdress became the pleats of the toque, originally sewn, and later stiffened with starch.

During the decline of the Byzantine Empire at the end of the sixth century and during the seventh century AD, intellectuals and artists sought sanctuary in monasteries from the invading Northern barbarians. They hid by wearing the orthodox black hat and robes. Many of them were considered “learned” about health and food so they began to work in the church kitchens. Eventually they started wearing white hats instead of the black hats worn by Greek Orthodox priests, and the toque was born.

The most widely circulated legend about the toque appears to be one concerning why Master Chefs wear hats with 100 pleats. Ruth Edwards in her book ‘A Pageant of Hats, Ancient and Modern said "It was regarded as natural that any chef, worthy of the name, could cook an egg at least one hundred ways. The most-renowned chefs often boasted that they could serve their royal masters a different egg dish every day in the year, some of them so cleverly prepared, that aside from being highly palatable they had flavours as widely different as completely diverse kinds of foods. Today, noted chefs are seldom called upon to prove their prowess in this manner.”

Many believe that today's toque is a more recent result of the gradual evolution of head coverings worn by cooks through the centuries.

Looking through illustrations of past headgear, one sees that the "toque" originally referred to a head covering worn by both men and women. It eventually assumed the shape of the small, round, close-fitting band or "crown" of cloth without a projecting brim but encompassing a gathering of material covering the top of the head. Sometimes of gatherings were pleated. By the end of the sixteenth century, the height, shape and stiffness of the gathered material varied from country to country. It ranged from the flattened beret style of the French to the formally pleated middle height of the Italians to the tall, softly-gathered style favored by the Germans. Illustrations in cookbooks of these periods show male cooks wearing a variety of headgear, including floppy berets, tall toques gathered in to topknots, skull caps and stocking caps resembling pointed nightcaps.

French cooks of the eighteenth century generally wore the "casque a meche" or stocking cap, the colors of which varied according to rank. Mr. Boucher, chef to the French statesman Talleyrand (l754-l838), is credited with introducing white as the standard color when he insisted for sanitary reasons that his cooks wear white caps. During this period, Spanish cooks wore berets of white wool or ticking; Germans wore pointed Napoleonic hats with a decorative tassel; the British wore starched Scotch caps and black skull caps sometimes referred to as librarians' caps. In addition to stocking caps, French cooks, especially pastry cooks, wore a bank of linen or ticking with a central mound of the same fabric pleated on the edge. By the end of the eighteenth century, it was full, heavily starched and held in the middle with a circular whalebone, producing the effect of a halo. Under Napoleon III (1808-1833), the Greek bonnet ornamented with a tassel was in vogue. Bald cooks purportedly wore caps in velour or heavy cloth wile persons with hair wore them in linen or netting.

The famous chef M. Antonin Careme, whose career spanned the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (l784-l833) is known to have worn the flattened, starched toque with a piece of round cardboard tucked inside. His book La Maitre d'Hotel (1822) has a frontis-piece illustration showing a chef in "costume anciene" wearing a stocking cap while a chef in "costume moderne" sports what may be either a whalebone or cardboard-braced toque.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, cooks still wore a variety of caps including the skull cap, beret, and short pleated pastry cook's cap, as well as the taller version reminiscent of the German toque of the fifteenth century.. Probably because of its comfort and imposing appearance the tall, stiffly starched and neatly pleated white hat, favored by the famous Auguste Escoffier (l846-l935), became more and more popular during the early part of the twentieth century. Today the tall "toque blanche" has become the standard headgear of professional cooks.

Whatever its true history, it is worn with pride and maintained with care as a vital part of the uniform or a working chef.

We have adapted the above information from the following sources.

Web References: (you will have to cut and paste into your browser):


History of Assyria:

Book References:

Clark, Fiona. Hats. London: B.T. Batsford, 1982.
Delpierre, Madeleine et Fabienne Falluel. Chapeaux, 1750-1960. Paris: Musée de la mode et du costume, c1980
Ginsburg, Madeleine. The Hat: Trends and Traditions. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1990.
Godin, Christine. Les Chapeaux feminins d'hier et d'aujourd'hui/Women's Hats Yesterday and Today. Montréal: Musée Chateau Ramezay, c1989.
Kilgour, Ruth. A Pageant of Hats, Ancient and Modern. 1958
McDowell, Colin. Hats: Status, Style and Glamour. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.
Perl, Lila. From Top Hats to Baseball Caps, From Bustles to Blue Jeans: Why We Dress the Way We Do. New York: Clarion Books, 1990.
Rankin, Robert H. Military Headdress: A Pictorial History of Military Headgear from 1660 to 1914. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1976.
R. Turner Wilcox. The Mode in Hats and Headdresses. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1945.

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