Step into New York City’s Le Coucou, a 2017 James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant, and there are a few atmospheric elements that will strike you: the exposed concrete, the triple-hung glass windows, the pewter-steel chandeliers and, arguably the most photographed feature, a private bar space with a 13-foot vaulted ceiling and a hand-painted landscape mural. The open kitchen, visible from almost any seat in the dining room, naturally draws the eye next, but not merely because of the impressive set-up. It’s the bustling staff sporting high, pleated chef’s toques that has some diners doing a double take.
If chef Daniel Rose has revived the toque-wearing tradition in a city that has long bid adieu to formality, it’s for several key reasons: heritage and hygiene.
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“When I was in cooking school in Lyon, we wore toques whenever we were in the kitchen," Rose says. “That was true in most of the kitchens I worked in, and we removed them only at the end of service when we began to clean.” If he didn’t wear them when he first opened his acclaimed Parisian restaurant Spring, it was because he was alone in both the kitchen and the dining room. “The toque would have created an uncomfortable distance between me and the diner,” he says. “It also would have been absurd—imagine dining in a restaurant with a single employee wearing a 10-inch white toque!”