I have always insisted that collaborations can lead to magical results. This belief particularly rose out of my affinity for the culinary arts, where the key to building unforgettable delicacies lies in combining and contrasting elements with one another.
But, the world of food is not just about the food itself. The magic within kitchens is spun by crafty chefs who bring meticulous measurements, a wild mix of colours and the confusing tussle of aromas together.
Chefs all over the world are increasingly becoming well-recognised public figures. Naturally, a ‘hip quotient’ follows the personality, and the importance of style and clothing is just one of the facets that comes with it. What was possibly just a personal preference is slowly becoming an interestingly deliberate dance of selections, conveniences and statements, collated across and via varying ideologies, regions and natures.
It’s easy to assume that the clothes a chef chooses would just be a reflection of their personal dressing style. But look closer, and what you’d spot is a deep connection between the food they make and what they wear when doing it.
“Let me take you to the..kitchens. Imagine rush. Imagine floors being continually washed off grease, spills and breakages. Dishwash area is piled up with plates, glassware, bowls. Staff in action. Service staff picking up food, delivering food to the restaurant and returning to pick up more food. Trying to balance their food trays. Trying to balance themselves on the slippery wet floors. Head Chef screaming to make his voice audible till the end of the kitchen. Gas flames roaring. Pots clinking. Water boiling.…where the air conditioner fails to win. There is sweat.
All Chefs have to wear hats so that all sweat is absorbed right off the forehead. There is pressure. To dish out food in 10 minutes. Every order, order after order. Then there are special orders. These need to be understood well, to avoid a disgruntled customer. There is continuous…noise. The heat, the pressure, shouting, coordination, hygiene – everything is immense.
[But] every plate from the kitchen goes out immaculate.
~ Chef Amitesh Virdi, Executive Chef, Punjab Grill
Understandably, chefs spend most of their time in the hot battleground of the grand kitchens. Sure, the hat is one of the main visual markers of a chef, but unlike the shower-caps and hairnets that keep the hair of many a café kitchen-hand out of your food, the Chef’s hat understands and suitably crowns the head of the person in such a high-pressure situation.
Lets come down a level though, and talk more specifically about cloth: The coat.
Alongside spearheading a team, chefs are also involved in really representing the food they serve. As a result, much of a chef’s identity begins with the perfect coat.
“Every day, I don the chef coat with a lot of pride. There is a sense of belonging to this attire….What matters to me the most is the thickness of the cloth. It shouldn’t be too thick to make you sweat when working near the ranges or the tandoor. It shouldn’t be too thin that it’ll make you shiver in the walk-in fridges. Also, the shoulder pocket must be wide and tough enough to accommodate your paring knife, thermometer and a couple of pens.”
~ Chef Sarthak Oza, JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar
All of this is practical, age-old uniform, but chefs are lately making concerted attempts at upping style and making statements with their sartorial choice in their kitchens.
~ Chef Saransh Goila, Founder – Goila Butter Chicken
But Chef Varun Inamdar took this importance to style, up a notch, and beautifully so, in his latest venture.
“I’ve just returned from Guatemala…I hosted India’s first food festival there, in association with the Indian embassy and a company called Stratech. I didn’t realise how big a value my attire [would add there]. [It was] a black t-shirt with my branding, with aprons made of Indian textiles. So, I wore a Warli print, Bandhni print, Paithani fabric, and so on.
The moment I walked into the restaurant, heads turned.
As chefs, we are expected to wear white or black chef coats or the newest trend – leather aprons. But, adding something like this becomes a communication starter, not only for the chef but also for the cuisine. India is made up of 29 states and every state has its peculiarity. Even if I wore one state’s apron each day of the month, I managed to have represented my country in not one, but two ways.”
~ Chef Varun Inamdar, Expert Chocolatier
Clothing therefore is fast becoming a great supporting cast in their efforts to represent cultures through spices.
“I try to imbibe the culture of a state in how I dress up for my pop-ups. For instance, when I do an Odiya pop-up, I wear a Cuttacki saree or a Lord Jagannath neckpiece, but at the same time, I keep in mind that I shouldn’t be wearing anything too heavy as I’ve to work in the kitchen. The clothes always match the cuisine of a region.”
~ Ananya Banerjee, Home Chef and Author
A unique link between food and clothing, meanwhile, lies at a very basic point. It is at the junction where both food and clothes both begin as seeds. As Nikhil Merchant of The Nonchalant Gourmand elucidates, he had a chance encounter with the food sector while working for the NGO, Shop For Change. The work had originally begun with creating a fair trade market for cotton farmers, and once this was established, they welcomed agriculture produce farmers onto the platform as well.
It may not directly correlate to how textile plays an intimate role in the Indian kitchens, but shows how at the seed level, both textiles and eatables function similarly – with a much greater need for their creators being promoted, with both the seeds being absolutely crucial to our existences, and how both develop into apparels and necessities of taste, flamboyance and dedication.
This conjunction of food and textile emphasizes on how the link between the two run deep, where each can be correlated to the other in both the raw and the finished form. The aspects of style plays immense functional importance in the kitchen, something which is becoming more emphatic with increasing recognition of chefs across the nation.
After all, the link between the two has forever been undeniable.
The Lookout Journal (TLJ) is a collaborative monthly arts and culture web-zine. Here, they don’t publish regular reviews and reports. Instead, they look for the slightly evocative, more whimsical sort of narratives, specific to the theme, with each issue.