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Chefs didn’t have to worry as much about the look of their uniform in years past, when restaurant kitchens were closed off from public view and workers toiled behind the scenes. Today, the trend is toward open kitchens and display counters where diners can watch chefs up close, making apparel choices that stay in keeping with the eatery’s ambiance much more important.
Three high-profile Denver chefs, Panzano Italian Restaurant’s Elise Wiggins, Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen’s Jorel Pierce and Tyler Wiard of Elway’s shared their thoughts about what they look for in a uniform for themselves and their staff.
What are the most important qualities when choosing a work uniform, for you and your kitchen staff?
Elise Wiggins: Quality is very important when choosing a uniform. The first impression in our display kitchen is our chefs. What they wear is very important. We serve only the very best, so we want our first impression with our guests to be that — the best.
Jorel Pierce: I look for a uniform that is professional in the way it looks and performs. We gravitate toward products that can easily be laundered by our linen companies and are easily and inexpensively replaced when damaged.
Tyler Wiard: The most important qualities in choosing kitchen uniforms are comfort, in a nut shell. How they fit, breathability.
How important is style? How much thought do you give to interacting with customers or the public when deciding what to wear for work?
EW: We look for quality, style, comfort and a tailored look.
JP: Style has less to do with what we purchase or have purchased. I would like to have a more stylish coat, but it hasn’t ever been of a high priority.
TW: Style is not as important to me as comfort is. No thought comes to mind when I am deciding what to wear!
What kind of uniform is best at helping you and your staff stay cool in the kitchen? What are you most comfortable wearing while doing your job?
EW: We use white uniforms so the cooks can stay cool. Air holes for the armpits also seem to help keep the chefs cool as well. I like to wear black pants, clogs and my white chef jacket with long sleeves. I don’t want my arms burned so I choose the long over the short sleeves.
JP: Our cooks wear thin “dishwasher” jackets; our chefs wear heavy cotton dry-cleaned jackets and simply deal with the heat and stiffness. I love wearing Banana Republic slacks because they are thin, fitted and super comfy even in the highest heat moments. They also seem to release the oil and food debris easily during regular washing at home.
TW: I personally wear cotton pants, clogs and a cotton-polyester blend chef jacket. It has always worked for me to keep “cool.”
Do you have a favorite that you replicate each time you replace a uniform, or do you shop around to see what’s new?
EW: I have a favorite because I know what quality I’m getting. I do always look at new trends but pretty much stay with my classic look. That never goes out of style.
JP: I love the look of classic houndstooth. I would kill to have some houndstooth with a giant print instead of the micro. I also have had a hankering for paisley chef pants. I do, in general, enjoy the look of a short-collared, double-breasted classic chef coat, full sleeves cuffed over once.
TW: I always shop around and ask other chefs if they have found something more comfortable, durable and breathable. Most of the time, I stick with what I currently wear, though.
Have kitchen uniforms changed much since you began your career? If so, how? What are some trends you’re seeing?
EW: The kitchen uniform for me hasn’t changed, but I do see people being more casual in the kitchen. I see T-shirts, jeans and bandanas. Each to his own, but I don’t think it looks as nice.
JP: Colors and patterns seem to be the most innovative aspects of kitchen apparel. I know there is a lot more out there, but it seems to me that uniform is of a much lower priority in general than the rest of the work a chef does. Maybe someday I will have time to be more concerned with it.
TW: Uniforms have definitely become a lot more comfortable and cooler in the past few years, which is awesome for me and my staff.