on uniforms

one comparison that has emerged since starting culinary school is that of the school uniform and the chef uniform. the experience of adhering to a school uniform and that of wearing chef’s whites are fairly similar, particularly in the way that – with both – there is an innate desire to adjust/tweak/modify the uniforms in order to make them look as cool as humanly possible… and/or to make it look like you know what you’re doing. for school uniforms, it seems there was always a set of unspoken rules about how you were supposed to wear it. some things were so basic… like, for example, not wearing your formal uniform (with all the matching pieces that the school provides)…EVER. not ever. not even on the first day of school. (i didn’t get that memo and had an embarrassing first day of 8th grade, but fortunately found some amazing friends who overlooked my faux-pas.) later, i learned about other rules: always roll your pleated skirt, wear socks as low-cut as possible without actually breaking the “visible socks” rule; make sure your hair looks great but like you rolled out of bed and weren’t trying at all; and, wear boxers underneath your skirt, too. i failed at a lot of these rules. i rolled my skirt but never quite achieved the look i think i was aiming for; it came out looking more like a tutu and less like a stylish skirt, and the boxers just gave a diaper-like quality to the whole thing. i’m not sure where my classmates were getting theirs, but mine didn’t cut it. and my hair was almost always, without fail pulled up into a wet bun, because i really had just rolled out of bed, but never had enough time after a shower to make it look great… in the winter, my hair even froze sometimes on my four-block walk to school. the one thing i did do well was wearing stylish low-riding socks (because it was so uncool to wear ones over your ankle), but… i sometimes got called out for it. alas, my school uniform days were numbered – it was only three years until i moved to a high school without them. but they were informative (and invaluable) years nonetheless.

but now, at culinary school, i find myself wearing uniforms once again and learning how to tweak them for that optimal cool/”yes, i know what i’m doing” factor. i’m not claiming that i look oh so very awesome in my chef’s whites; i’m sure there’s room for improvement. but i can’t help but be completely enamored of them. there’s something so classic and mesmerizing about the whole tradition of the chef’s uniform. it just makes me want to watch Mostly Martha, and the American remake No Reservations (which yes, i actually love even more), and of course, Ratatouille. seriously, sometimes i watch our chef instructor demo a technique or dish for us in class, and in the background i hear French music and imagine a little rat chef. (yes, i know how old i am… no, i’m not embarrassed that Ratatouille is in my top five films.) and so as i learn to adjust and tweak my uniform – fold the apron here, tuck my bar towels there, and continue to play around with my hat until i finally…hopefully…find the sweet spot – i daydream about all the chefs who have come before me, and all the ones yet to come, and i’m excited to see how i fit into that story and tradition. i’m sure the desire to tweak uniforms says something about human nature: individuality, or rather conformity, vanity, comfort… there is probably some big sociological commentary to be made… but for now, i’m just grateful to be wearing one.


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