The Unbearable Whiteness of Professionalism

The National Culinary Review leads its new issue with one of those entertaining, perplexing, annoying, and ultimately sympathetic Grumpy Old Man tirades that often grace the pages of highfalutin journals such as Cook’s Illustrated and The Art of Eating.

American Culinary Federation president John Kinsella has a very important message for his readers: If you’re a professional chef, you’d better be wearing a properly starched, toque-bedecked, clean, and above all white uniform … or else!

In the process of making his point, he tees off on chefs who wear black in 120-degree kitchens, chefs who cook in blue jeans, and chefs who keep less-than-spotless work environments. On one hand, the hippy-trippy American outlook suggests that as long as the food’s good, chefs should be able to wear whatever crazy get-ups they want—it’s a free country. And black will, with the exception of the white-linen Mark Twain–style suits, always be cooler than white.

On the other hand, Kinsella kind of makes a good point, by invoking military dress codes: Discipline and consistency are driven from the ground up, by the details and by the composition of an overall A-game through lining up a hundred different molecules of excellence and deliberate order. A crisp, simple white uniform shows humility before the food and the diners, and the first step to becoming a master is being humbled by the enormousness of the task that lies before you.

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