Saturday, September 8, 2012

So just what is a toque blanche?

Le Chef de l'Hôtel Chatham, Paris
 oil on canvas by William Orpen

1921 Royal Academy of Arts, London, England.

A “toque blanche” is the French term for "white hat" usually just referred to as a  “toque.” It’s a tall, round, pleated white hat worn by chefs, the folds on a toque are supposed to symbolize the numerous ways in which the humble egg can be cooked by a top chef.

Most likely, this type of hat evolved from head coverings cooks wore throughout the centuries. They include the “casque a meche” - the stocking cap worn in the 18th-century by French chefs. The color of the “casque” represented the wearer’s rank, white or “blanche” as the highest .  Talleyrand, the French statesman, insisted that white toques be worn by his chefs for sanitary reasons. I suppose knowing now what we do about questionable hygiene including the common presence of head lice, it’s no surprise that the toque had an important practical function!  The modern toque is believed to have originated with Auguste Escoffier

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