WASHINGTON — In some trendy restaurants these days, the chefs' fashions may be hotter than the stoves.
New clothing companies are springing up for today's chic chefs, who no longer have to settle for ill-fitting white tunics and tight, polyester houndstooth pants.
"Hot Chefs--Cool Uniforms" is the slogan for Chef Clothing Revival USA of Paramus, N.J., which exhibited its made-to-be-seen uniforms at the annual American Culinary Federation convention here last week.
Sure, the company's chef's pants come in traditional colors--black and white. But they're fashionably baggy, and their bold stripes and oversized checkerboard prints wouldn't be out of place in a new-wave dance club.
There are matching aprons and neckties. And even baseball caps for those who feel awkward in the traditional tall, white chef's hats known as toques.
"More and more restaurants are opening their kitchens up to the public, so the chefs have to look good," said Kim de la Villefromoy, who co-founded the company. "These days, presentation doesn't just mean the table and the dish. It means the chef as well."
That's why the Hyatt hotel in suburban Reston, Va., chose the Chef Clothing Revival look for the staff of its Market Street Bar & Grill. The grill's kitchen is in the middle of everything, out where diners can see it.
And for a restaurant that hosts gallery openings and serves dishes like Santa Fe pizza and peppered duck breast salad on a bed of Sonoma greens, traditional chefs' uniforms wouldn't do.
"We've got the hippest-looking cooks I've ever seen," said Market Street's manager, David Garfinkel. "We really go for the offbeat and the eclectic, for the visual impact. We want people to notice."
Even the more traditional cook has some choices these days. At New Chef Fashion of Los Angeles, chefs' tunics still look conservative, but they feature shoulder pads and tummy-slimming tapered cuts. They come with elegant blue piping, faux pearl snaps and eye-catching embroidered logos.
"There's no reason chefs have to be seen in public in glorified pajama tops," said Lucien Salama, who founded the company with his wife three years ago under the slogan, "If you look good, you feel good, you cook good."
New Chef Fashion sells a version of the traditional toque, but it also offers baseballs caps with "CHEF" embroidered on the front.
"I used to wear run-of-the-mill, cheap uniforms," said Ralph Feraco, executive chef at the Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y., who stopped by Salama's exhibit booth to try on jackets. "But I like a good-looking chef, especially when he's out in public. So these new jackets are great."
Not everyone shares Feraco's enthusiasm for change.
Retired chef Rudy H. Soeder of Cleveland has made it his mission to preserve the chef's hat. At the convention, he's been handing out flyers calling for the revival of the toque.
"Long live a good chef and his toque," read the flyers. "Stand tall, toque and all."