Swedish research tells us the chef's white cap is altogether too high. Snob symbols of cookery's caste system, the pileated billy-cocks range from the modest pretense of the lowly fry cook to the lordly prominence of a half meter for the executive busby of an Oscar. Kitchens have been built to accommodate these capotic high-rises, and this, say the Swedish statisticators, is wasteful. Ventilation fans must be placed so high that efficiency is impossible, and valuable heat is exhausted along with the effluvia of gastronomic phlogistication. We're blowing dollars away. Let us be grateful that affairs in Sweden permit attention to things like this, and once we put beanies on all the cooks we may again see Delmonico steaks at 35 cents.
The hat is ancient, but none from away back has been preserved for our contemplation. But from statuary and other sources, we know something of the beginnings. Cooks had a kind of tiara, but not graduated to delineate the relative abilities with the prehistoric jellyroll -- it served all, from chef to scullion, who wrought with victuals. The ancient kitchen was thus democratic and the haute cuisine was not in contention over plateaux of hauteur. We don't know when the altitude of the bonnet began to signify skill and rank, but the Cordon Bleu supports the principle that the bechemel boy shall not beat the bearnaise in the bain-marie. Nev-vaire! This costs us beaucoup dough in lost energy.
I have always surmised there is an element of pretense in the chef's cap -- put one on a man and he looks the part. To support this, I suggest that nobody will be judged an expert on crepinettes d'agneau if he's wearing a beany. To support it further, I have heard of one excellent good cook who never wore a chef's cap at all, but because he disliked the feel of new dough he always kneaded his bread with his mittens on. There are other Maine lumber camp cooks in my mind who would please the Swedish researchers. I recall Jerry Latouche, whose sartorial frippery at the range was a Kaybecker toque in which he kept his money, his rosary, a deck of cards, and a photograph of his wife back in St. Prosper, whose name was Albert. Then there was Mike Borsak, who cooked in a ''kossuth'' that had gilt letters on the band saying, ''I've Been to Atlantic City.'' Mike had never been south of Bangor, and won the hat by throwing baseballs on the midway at Northern Maine State Fair. Neither of these superb cooks related headgear to his art -- they wore hats because their heads were hairless as eggs. Mike is the one we always called Curly.
Once in a while a Maine woods cook would be called Snood. An interesting derivation. The snood was an arrangement worn by young ladies to restrain their hair. When the hermetically sealed tin can was perfected for food processing, women who worked in the factories were required to wear net caps so stray wisps wouldn't show up later in the sardines, peas, beans, sweetcorn, and clam chowder. These caps were called snoods, and soon the word snood meant a net. Seines, potheads, bait bags were snoodin'. Twine for knitting snoods was snoodin'. Men occupied with snoods sometimes had the nickname of Snood. And woods cooks who wore snoods might be saluted pleasantly as Snoodie. So, a kitchen staffed with snoodies could have a low ceiling and a high coefficient of Swedish approval. Somebody ought to think about this.