Why do chefs wear those long, white hats? --- Tuba, Mumbai, India
Marshall Brain Answers:
Let's start by understanding that hats can be a little unique with humans. It is common for styles of hat to get associated, permanently, with certain professions. Baseball players wear baseball hats. Cowboys wear cowboy hats. Firemen wear fireman's hats. Construction workers wear hard hats. Safari guides wear pith helmets. And so on...
In the same way, chefs wear chef hats (and often chef jackets and pants). The chef's hat is usually called a toque. They come in several forms. There is the tall, white, pleated version:
And there is the poofy kind made famous by Chef Boy-ar-dee:
You can see several variations (tall, poofy, short) in this trailer for the movie Ratatouille:
The tall pleated kind is usually given its structure with starch. The height of the hat is thought to designate rank.
So why do chefs wear hats at all? Most commonly the keep hair and sweat out of the food. But honestly, no one really knows where the tall hats actually came from. If you poke around in books or on the Internet you can find a variety of stories, but nothing seems solid. Here are several interpretations of the origin:
In fast food and diners, the toque often devolves into the famous paper hat, as shown in this video:
It's the same thing though - keeping hair and sweat out of the food.