Many years ago, Jeff told me at one time there were 100 pleats on a toque (That’s the name of a chef’s hat.). And that each pleat represented one way to cook an egg. I was pretty incredulous. I wondered how in the world anyone could cook an egg that many ways. Well, it turns out, he was right.
I discovered pleats, as well as toques, are immersed in rich history. Originally the idea was the more experience a chef had, the more pleats were on his toque. Each pleat signified a technique or recipe he had mastered. And, Jeff was right – at one time, a chef had 100 pleats in his toque to signify the 100 ways he could prepare an egg.
If a pleat holds that much history, I mused, what can we learn about the history of a toque? Where did it come from? And, when did it first appear on the scene?
History of a Toque
My research reveals two equally plausible stories about where the toque came from. They both center around the same time period – the 7th Century. I’ll tell you both and you can choose your favorite.
The first story revolves around the Assyrians. Chefs were chosen very carefully and treated quite well. Many even held rank in the king’s court and were given cloth crown-like hats to make them feel special. The hope was they’d quit poisoning the kings, which they were prone to do. The crown-shaped ribs were originally sewn and stiffened with starch. Those became the pleats.
The other story says chefs had to learn to read in order to decipher recipes. For this reason, they were considered learned men. Learned men were not favored at the time and were often persecuted. So, chefs often took refuge in monasteries, where they disguised themselves to look like the monks and priests. Eventually, they started wearing white hats instead of the traditional black.
Then years later, story has it when King Henry VIII ruled, in the early- to mid-1500s, his chefs wore hats to protect their hair from falling in the king’s food. You see, that happened to one poor fellow. I’m sure you can guess what happened to him.
In France, during the 1800s, Chef Marie-Antoine Carême decided chefs needed a special uniform. He chose white because white signified cleanliness in the kitchen. Different hat heights were worn by each station and rank. Of course, the chef, being the highest-ranking, wore the tallest hat – or toque Blanche. Rumor has it Chef Carême’s was 18 inches tall!
Though today, the toque remains a well-recognized symbol of authority and skill, it is not worn with as much frequency as in days gone by. They are tough to keep clean and they inhibit air flow. Toques today don’t have so many pleats, but they still signify a chef’s level of experience. If you try to buy one today, you’ll usually find only 48 pleats. Does that mean the skill level of a chef is on the decline?
Here’s a recipe for the perfect soft boiled egg found at food.com
As simple as it may be, I know there are many that struggle for the perfect boiled egg. The boiling time has a lot to do with your elevation. Five minutes is perfect for an elevation of 1100 feet. If you are nearer sea level decrease the boiling time; if at a higher elevation increase the time. Invest in an egg pricker. This is a tool that will prick a small hole in the bottom of the egg allowing air to escape, preventing the egg from cracking as it boils.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 cups water
Bring the water to a rapid boil.
Keeping a rapid boil, add salt.
Prick the bottom (wider end) of the eggs with an egg pricker.
Immerse the eggs in the boiling water and boil for exactly 5 minutes.
Dash in cold water, crack and enjoy.