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Unique Gift Idea: Chef Hats

Restaurant Uniforms

Wow your friends with personalized chef's hats

Another special occasion is coming up and you have no idea what to give to your friends - friends who happen to be either professional chefs, or just love to cook. Who can blame you? People who can cook tend to be nitpicky, and it could get embarrassing to give them the wrong bottle of exotic spices or the wrong wine. You could go safe and give them kitchen utensils, but ask yourself this: does your friend really need yet another set of knives? Don't worry, though, because there is an interesting and fun alternative: a personalized chef hat. Your friend will surely love it, and he might just cook up a special dish for you for coming up with the best gift.

First, a little backgrounder. Chef hats actually started back to the seventh century A.D., when chefs earned the status of being 'learned men.' Learned men during those days wore headpieces similar to the black hats worn by Greek Orthodox priests to indicate their high status. Unfortunately, revolts led to learned men being loathed, even persecuted, and anybody in the signature black hat was imprisoned, or at least disrespected. Rumor has it that to avoid harassment, chefs decided to make their bonnets white instead, and thus, the white chef hat was born.

But there is another more likely story. Some say that chef hats were first used by ancient Assyrians. Kings back then feared being poisoned by their cooks, and so chefs were very carefully-chosen, and were even given 'royal' ranking. As a royal, therefore, chefs were entitled to wear a crown, though not as expensive and beautiful as a king's bejeweled crown. Thus came the starchy white chef hats we know today, complete with the pleats inspired by crown-shaped ribs of the real crowns.

This is exactly why it's a good idea to give personalized chef hats to your chef friends - because chef hats remind them of the prestige of their profession. Called by the French as 'toque-blanche,' chef hats are part of the traditional chef uniform, and often indicate the rank and expertise of a chef (traditionally, novices wear the shorter toques, and master chefs wear the higher ones). But even your non-chef friends who just love to barbeque in their backyard will surely appreciate a funky, personalized chef hat.

Choosing the right chef hat. If you are buying for a non-professional chef, any of the generic chef hats you can get from costume stores and even kitchen shops will probably do. After all, they won't be using it for work, and you can get away with a nonspecific make and size.

But if you are buying for a real, professional chef, then it is best to go to specialty shops that carry HACCP-compliant chef hats (the compliance guarantees that the hats are of quality and can be used in professional kitchens). Serious chefs need serious hats, after all, so be sure to do your research. Here are some things to consider.

Chef hats come in 'brimless' varieties to cover the cook's entire hairline and keep any stray hair from falling into the dishes being prepared. This kind of headpiece is probably the easiest to find and is also very comfortable for the wearer, making it an ideal gift.

Be sure to look for chef hats that don't require staples, glues or pins for them to stay on the head because not only are these contraptions bothersome - they are also not allowed in professional kitchens. Instead choose chef hats with adjustable Velcro. This way, your gift will surely fit the recipient, and he never has to worry about pins falling on the dish.

Also consider the material when choosing a chef's hat. Pick out ones that are breathable and light. Remember that kitchens can get very hot and humid, and the last thing a chef needs is a heavy, nonbreathable headpiece.

Finally, personalize. Tastefully embroider your friend's name on the chef hat. Can't sew? A lot of seamstress shops and even mall stalls that offer computerized stitching will be glad to do it for you at a low cost. Remember: not only does personalizing the chef hat give the headpiece more character - it also tells the recipient that you put in a lot of extra effort to get him the best gift you can think of.