Culinary Arts, Revolutionary Restaurants, and Tall White Hats

At Second Harvest Food Bank, we’re extremely proud of our Culinary Institute so I thought I’d add some pizzazz to the soufflé by doing a bit of research.

Did you know that restaurants as we know them are in large part the result of the French Revolution?

Eating establishments have been around since the early days of civilization, but restaurants as we know them today, offering fine dining experiences, can be traced to the fall of France’s Monarchs, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. After these two lost their heads, many chefs employed by the newly-deposed aristocracy found themselves jobless and began to open up their own eateries in Paris. The word “restaurant” itself is clearly French and means “to restore.”

Enter Cesar Ritz, a Swiss developer, and Auguste Escoffier, a prominent French chef. Ritz hired Escoffier to be head chef at his Hotel National in Lucerne, Switzerland. Together they brought about the most significant changes in the modern development of the hotel industry. Escoffier brought culinary arts to a higher level and elevated the status of the profession, introducing discipline, specialization, and kitchen management techniques while at the same time writing his famous “Guide Culinaire,” the definitive culinary reference guide which is still in use today.

Soon, fine dining spread across the world and those employed in the field as true professionals began to earn the higher compensation they deserved.

So what’s with the tall, white hats? The “toque” is white to symbolize cleanliness and purity. The folds represent the chef’s expertise and achievement. One hundred folds may represent 100 hundred ways to prepare an egg, or a chicken.

Regardless, since time immemorial crowns and headdress have been used as ways to distinguish those of importance in society. The taller the hat, the more important the person wearing it.

This past July 14th, France celebrated Bastille Day – their independence day commemorating the beginning of their war against the monarchy in 1789, just 13 years after we rebelled against King George III.

Just as we celebrate the fourth, let’s remember the French for the “revolutionary” way in which they elevated the culinary arts.

Hats off! And bon appetit!CAFE

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