The Culinary Student Uniform: Its value and grooming rules.

This article looks at the uniform that student chefs wear. We also consulted with a student chef to answer students’ many questions about what’s allowed and not in the grooming etiquette for culinary school. Let’s begin with our first question:

What do culinary students wear?

Culinary students, like all chefs, wear a uniform called chef whites for safety and professionalism. This usually is a double-breasted chef coat, a chef hat or hairnet, black or checkered pants, an apron, good quality non-slip shoes and often a hand towel tucked in at the waist.

The following section unpacks the value of the uniform.

6 Reasons why students wear the chef’s uniform.

Culinary schools have exact standards for the uniforms they require their students to wear. They not only want you to look and dress like a chef, even though you are still in training, but also because the chef uniform is essential in its specific role and function, as follows:

1. It symbolises the profession and a sense of belonging.

Chefs worldwide wear the chef’s uniform as it represents the profession. Wearing it means you are part of the profession, instilling a sense of professional pride and camaraderie in chefs.

More so because the origin and development of the chef uniform are rooted in history as far back as the 1700s, giving the student chef a greater sense of pride when wearing their uniform and a sense of belonging to the broader community of chefs present and past.

2. To have a professional chef look.

Even though chefs work in the kitchen, at the back end of a restaurant, wearing the chef uniform gives the look and feel of professionalism and uniformity throughout the kitchen. This, in turn, fosters unity and team spirit.

3. It helps to protect from injuries like cuts and burns.

Besides looking professional, the chef uniform is specifically designed for safety and protection from cuts, burns and slips when working in a hot and busy kitchen.

4. To ensure sanitation and prevent food contamination.

The chef’s uniform components, like the chef hat and neckerchief, absorb sweat from the chef and prevent it from falling into the food being prepared, contaminating it.

5. It is how it is worn in the world of work.

The student chef uniform is the same as that worn throughout the industry and workplace. Wearing it during training acclimatises you to the discipline of always wearing it when you work in the kitchen and prepares you for what is required in the workplace.

6. For comfort in a hot kitchen and long-standing.

As chefs are exposed to heat and long-standing, the uniform, like the traditional chef’s coat, is white because the colour repels heat, helping keep the chef cool while preparing food.

The chef’s shoes, in turn, are made for comfort and long-standing. The waist of the chef pants has an elastic drawstring so that it is comfortable to wear.

The combined visual effect in the kitchen from all chefs wearing white gives the psychological look and feel of coolness whilst working in the kitchen.

Description of the student chef uniform.

It’s a misnomer to think there are only four parts to a chef’s uniform. The full chef’s uniform consists of 5 essential elements, the chef’s: a hat, coat, pants, safety shoes and apron with extras like neckerchiefs, also called a scarf and gloves.

For a complete description of the chef uniform, please take a look at our article on everything the culinary student needs to know. It has a table describing each component of the uniform and its purpose.

The Colour of the chef’s uniform.

Chefs wear white because:

  • White is the conventional chef uniform.
  • White symbolises that the kitchen where food is prepared is hygienic and safe.
  • White aids in upholding cleanliness as spots and stains from cooking are easier to detect on white.
  • White is easier to keep clean as it can be more easily bleached to remove stains. For more information on removing stains from your chef whites, please read the detailed article we’ve written on this topic.
  • White is also a cooler to work in as it averts heat rather than absorbs it.

Chefs wear black because:

  • Black chef jackets have become popular, especially for chefs working in settings where customers can watch the chef at work preparing their meals.
  • Black also tends to be easier for hiding darker stains from cooking.

Common questions and answers about the chef’s uniform.

What are chef’s uniforms called?

The customary chef’s uniform, called ‘chef whites’, has a white hat and coat, neckerchief, apron and checkered black and white or black pants. Chef whites embody the profession, give a professional look, hide stains, aid personal and food hygiene, and protect and keep the chef cool in the kitchen.

White, as a colour worn by chefs, seems to date back to the 1700s by M. Bouchin, a chef to a statesman.  Marie Antoine Carême (1784-1833), a celebrity chef of his time, improved the chef’s hat known as the toque and still worn by today’s chefs, and Augustus Escoffier (1846-1935) in streamlining operations in the kitchen, instituted ‘chef whites’ as the standard uniform to be worn to bring a level of professionalism in the kitchen.

We’ve written an article on the history of culinary arts and why it’s essential to know this history. As a budding chef, we encourage you to read it.

Why do chef coats have two rows of buttons?

Chef coats have two rows of buttons to keep the double-flap chef coat intact and from hanging untidily. The double-flap protects the chef from hot liquid spills and splashes, which won’t easily seep through two fabric layers and allow the chef to swap the flaps when one side is dirty.

The buttons are often stud or screw buttons for ease of removal in the case of an emergency and to reverse the flaps quickly, as speed is critical in the kitchen. For similar reasons, velcro is also used instead of stud buttons for fastening the jacket.

Do you tuck in a chef’s coat?

You don’t tuck in a chef’s coat, as it looks untidy and unprofessional. For safety reasons, the chef coat must also be worn loose: in the event of a burn, or it sets on fire, you don’t have to untuck the coat but can immediately unbutton and pull off the coat to minimise the risk of injury.

Wearing the coat tucked in is more likely to make the chef feel hot and uncomfortable in an environment where comfort is essential than when it hangs loosely. Thus, not only is it customary for the jacket to be worn over the pants, but also for practical and functional reasons like comfort, safety and professionalism.

How do chefs wear towels?

How chefs wear towels is a personal choice. Many wear them tucked into apron pockets or the waist strings of aprons to be on hand for touching hot items. Some wear them over the shoulder, but this is unsafe and unhygienic: they can fall onto a hot stove or into food, causing a fire or contamination.

In addition, sweat from the neck can seep into it and cause food contamination when the chef uses it and handles food, risking cross-contamination of food.

Wearing the towel is not a requirement or part of the chef’s uniform. The towel must be clean to prevent food contamination and dry to prevent hand burns. Touching a hot pot with a wet towel can lead to burns, and heat is more easily conducted through a wet than a dry towel.

Chefs wear towels tucked in at the apron’s waist strings.

Do real chefs wear gloves?

Real chefs wear gloves to be responsible and professional. A chef with a hand-wound wears a glove to protect the wound and prevent contamination. Gloves are worn to protect the hands from pungent food smells, as in fish, for better knife grip and to prevent cuts when working with food.

Not only does fish have a strong smell that remains on the hands a long time after, but spikey fins can cause hand injury, preventable by using gloves.

For hygiene and safety purposes, gloves must not be worn the whole day as they get dirty and damaged but replaced every two hours.

Why do chefs wear black gloves?

Chefs wear black gloves as they are stronger than surgical gloves, and damage is less likely to occur. Black gloves also look better and are more likely used by chefs who cook while customers watch.

Sometimes chefs wear one black glove as it has an aesthetic appeal.

What clothes should you not wear while cooking?

Clothes you should not wear while cooking to prevent injury are shorts and short sleeves because of hot liquid spills and items falling on the legs and arms; jeans because they are difficult to remove in injury; slides because of the risk of slipping.

You should not wear a chef jacket with loose-fitting sleeves and are overly long as the loose flaps can easily catch fire or get soaked in hot water, posing a risk of burning and a health hazard from cross-contamination.

Some chef uniforms are designed with short sleeves because of the danger posed by many chef uniforms with loose-fitting sleeves that pose a risk of catching fire when close to heat during food preparation. Hence, many chefs either roll up their sleeves or wear specially designed short sleeve uniforms which also promote ease of movement.

This, however, exposes the wrist and arms to burns from hot liquid splashes or spills. From a safety perspective, the best are long sleeve chef coats with well-fitting sleeves.

Can you wear a shorts in the kitchen?

Rather than wear shorts in the kitchen, wear long baggy pants as this is safer, providing excellent protection against burns from splashes and spills. Chefs, whether in training or skilled, wear long, black or checkered pants that are loose-fitting, comfortable, and safe for working in a hot kitchen.

Can chefs wear jeans?

Chefs can’t wear jeans as they tend to stick when in contact with liquid. If a hot beverage falls on you and it’s necessary to remove your pants urgently, it will be hard to remove them as jeans are very constricting.  It’s best to wear baggy pants, like chef’s pants.

Culinary student grooming rules: Common do and don’ts.

Below are common grooming related questions often asked about what chefs can and should not wear whilst working in the kitchen, whether in training or industry.

Wearing jewellery in the kitchen:

What types of jewellery are allowed in the kitchen?

Except for a plain wedding band, worn in a glove during food preparation and medical alert bracelets, no other jewellery like watches, earrings, nose rings or other piercings, necklaces and costume jewellery is allowed in the kitchen for hygienic and safety reasons.

It’s safer not to wear any jewellery in the kitchen, especially during food preparation, as it can carry germs that can cause cross-contamination should you touch it and then touch food or accidentally fall in food or become hot enough while cooking and burn you.

With costume jewellery, there is the risk of jewellery melting when exposed to excessive heat and causing injury.

Regarding rings, it isn’t easy to ensure that the entire surface area of the circle is clean and free from contaminants that can cause cross-contamination.

A ring and a chain can also get hooked into dangerous kitchen equipment, causing injury.

According to the food handler code, jewellery like earrings is allowed. Still, most kitchens prefer chefs to avoid running the risk because of the risk of injury and the cost involved when food must be discarded during cross-contamination.

Can a chef wear a wedding ring?

A chef can wear a wedding ring in cooking for its private value and if covered in a whole glove. Still, removing a ring is safer as you may forget to wear a glove or, as chefs work directly with their hands, like kneading dough, there is a risk of tainting or obstructing food if the ring comes off.

An anecdote from our student chef, whom we interviewed for this article, recalls a story told by a chef lecturer whose wedding band came off whilst hand mixing ingredients into ground beef. While the wedding band was found, the entire batch of ground beef had to be discarded because of possible food contamination.

There is also the risk of safety as a wedding band can get hooked on kitchen equipment, resulting in injury. So, best take it off while cooking unless you cover a ring with an unspoilt glove.

Why is jewellery not allowed in the kitchen?

Because of health and safety risks, jewellery is disallowed in the kitchen. It’s tough to keep their surface areas very clean and prevents thorough hand washing, thus risking food soiling; it can fall into food, causing a physical hazard or hook onto dangerous equipment, causing a safety hazard.

The exception is a wedding band, provided it has a smooth surface with no grooves. Even in this case, wearing a glove and removing the ring is safer when working with dangerous kitchen equipment.

Can you wear earrings at culinary school?

At culinary school, earrings can be worn during lectures but are best not worn in the kitchen because they carry microorganisms that can be passed onto food, causing contamination. Earrings also pose a safety risk as they can become hot when too close to heat in case of burning your skin.

Long or hoop earrings can get caught in kitchen machinery, causing injury. The kitchen poses many safety hazards, and dressing appropriately minimises safety risks.

Can you wear piercings as a chef?

You can wear piercings as a chef but not in the kitchen preparing food as they carry germs. All types of piercings risk contamination when a chef touches the piercing and then works with food or if it becomes loose and falls into the food, posing an additional choking hazard.

Can chefs wear nose rings?

Chefs can wear nose rings but not when cooking.  As nose rings carry germs, should a chef accidentally touch their nose and then food, cross-contamination of food can occur. Nose rings can also come loose from studs and land in food, causing a health and safety hazard if ingested by a customer.

As with all food contamination, there are health and safety concerns, wastage, and reputational damages suffered, and chefs ultimately need to act responsibly and professionally towards themselves, the customers they serve, and the kitchen in which they work.

Can you wear necklaces as a chef?

While the food code allows it, it’s best not to wear a necklace in the kitchen. Each time you touch it and work with food, you risk passing germs to food and spoiling it. Added are safety risks: a necklace can heat up when exposed to heat or fire, get caught in kitchen equipment, causing injury.

If you are determined to wear one, make sure it’s out of your reach to prevent touching and safely tucked inside your uniform so as not to be directly exposed to heat. However, most culinary schools are very strict about what students can and can’t wear in the kitchen, and according to the student we interviewed, even more so than in industry.

Wearing tattoos as a chef:

Is a tattoo allowed in culinary school?

You can have a tattoo as a chef and at culinary school, as a permanent tattoo is a part of your skin, holding no risk of the ink running into food and hence, does not pose a health hazard. It is also not a reflection of the quality of the chef that you are.

According to the culinary student we interviewed, many chefs like having tattoos to hide away scars from injuries obtained whilst working in the kitchen.

Chefs with fresh tattoos must stay out of the kitchen as these pose health risks due to the piercings and the ink running under heat pressure.

Make-up and nails in the kitchen:

Can chefs wear make-up?

It’s best not to wear make-up whilst working in the kitchen for hygiene, health and safety. Food contamination can occur from accidentally touching your face and working with food, in turn, and when false eyelashes detach and fall in food risking contamination and an unhappy customer.

Sweating is inevitable, especially in a hot kitchen, and makeup like foundation can then slip off. While you can minimise this by wearing, for example, lightweight or mat foundation, it’s best to err on the side of caution and instead not use make-up.

Can food workers have fake nails?

Food workers, like chefs, shouldn’t wear fake nails for hygiene, health and safety reasons and productivity. Dirt gathers under nails, and they risk breaking, chipping or peeling and landing in food, causing contamination, a choking hazard, a terrible customer experience, and a slower work pace. 

Someone with fake or long nails is likely to be cautious in how they work to ensure they don’t damage their nails, and in a kitchen where speed is essential, this could lead to inefficiency.

Whilst wearing gloves in the event of fake and long nails, there is still the risk of holes being poked in the gloves, posing similar health and safety hazards.

Further, wearing fake nails or long nails is a personal choice and does not serve any purpose in the kitchen, being more of a hindrance; it is not viewed kindly when kitchen stock like gloves are used to maintain personal grooming needs.

To be efficient and minimise health and safety risks, chefs must keep their nails short, well-trimmed, and smooth around the edges.

Containing hair in the kitchen:

How should I wear my hair in the kitchen?

Hair must be trimmed and neat, and long hair should be neatly tied back, above the collar and covered by a hair net, chef’s hat or skull cap to prevent hair from falling into and contaminating food or hanging in the face, causing a safety hazard when coming close to the heat from a stove.

Restraining hair is essential. Besides the hygiene and safety risks, it’s an unpleasant experience when a customer finds a hair in their food, and they are less likely to return after that.

Culinary schools may also have particular standards like requiring a hair fringe or bangs to be strictly above the eyebrows, that hair scrunchies of specific colours like white or black, in light of the chef uniform are used for tying hair back, or if students are applying hair dye that these are restricted to natural colours like black, brown or blonde.

Can chefs have facial hair?

While most chefs are clean-shaven, chefs can have facial hair as long as they wear a safeguard like a beard net when working in the kitchen to prevent loose hair from falling into food if the beard is long and thick. If only stubble, it’s okay, but it must be neat and trimmed.

A beard net, like a hair net, is disposable and made of lightweight material and specially made for environments like the kitchen where sanitisation and safety are critical.

Overall, grooming standards for chefs are essential. While schools may differ on the specific details of the professional standards they require from students, the dress code, from the uniform to grooming dos and don’ts, is geared towards promoting kitchen professionalism, hygiene and safety for the customer, the chef and the industry.

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