“The Bear,” a frenetic dramedy about a struggling Chicago restaurant, has many charms. Its extreme close-ups, for one, which invade the space of a side of salted meat and star Jeremy Allen White’s stubbled cheek with equal impunity; its effortless flips from deep pathos to high comedy faster than a sear can turn to a burn; the quirky four-dimensional characters, drawn with as much tenderness as a slow-cooked roast beef. Yes, the meat metaphors are (well) done now.
But you can’t talk about “The Bear” without paying homage to one of its central, if largely unsung, characters. We refer, of course, to the immaculately fitted white T-shirts worn by White as chef Carmy, which the show’s costume designers have said are old-school loopwheel cotton tees from German basics brand Merz B. Schwanen. Despite the kitchen’s abundance of tomato-based juices, Carmy’s white T-shirts somehow manage to remain as pristine and pure as his dream of transforming his late brother’s dive into a food destination to rival the Michelin-starred kitchens he trained in.
“The Bear” season two drops on Disney Plus July 19 (bonjour, Luca, the Hot Pastry Chef) and it got us thinking: What do the stylish chefs in our own city’s restaurants wear to see them through a stressful service? How do they balance function and fashion when the heat is on? And how do they keep their whites as pristine as Carmy’s tee?
Hands! Here’s what they had to say.
Taylor McMeekin, Drake Hotel
The new executive chef of Toronto stalwart the Drake Hotel is very particular when it comes to his aprons.
“I have tried many apron companies and have had a few that I found bunched in uncomfortable areas or twisted easily,” says Taylor McMeekin. After much trial and error, he found his Holy Grail brand, Search & Rescue. “I have been wearing their aprons for the better part of a decade. They are durable and I like the cut.”
He’s equally passionate about his go-to kitchen shoe, Birkenstock Bostons. “I have always worn them in the kitchen,” says McMeekin. “They save my back when I’m standing for long periods, have a classic look and are easy to remove if needed.” They’re actually the first piece of uniform he’d recommend to someone beginning their kitchen career. “The inexpensive rubber ones are a great start. They’re easily cleaned and durable.”
When it comes to his requisite white chef jackets, McMeekin is loyal to short-sleeved ones from Bragard, a classic French uniform brand, calling them “light and breathable.” The finishing touch: his signature glasses frames, either a Tom Ford pair or Ray-Bans.
And when he’s not in the kitchen, his uniform is just as precise. “You will find me in a black band tee, Vans Old Skool All Blacks and white sport socks.”
Nuit Regular, Kiin, Pai, Sukhothai, Selva
The co-owner of four Toronto restaurants, Nuit Regular is a study in style contrasts. Outside the kitchen, she’s all about playful, colourful looks. “I have a very bohemian style,” she says. “In the summertime, I love to wear long, flowy dresses and skirts and, in the fall, I love kimono-style wraps.”
At work, however, she’s much more restrained. “In the kitchen, I’m dressed very simply and comfortably; it is a very basic look that I will always wear, with the exception of my headwrap.”
Regular started wearing colourful Thai headwraps as a practical way to keep her hair out of her face while cooking — a chef’s hat didn’t feel right. “I remembered my ancestors used to wrap their hair with these long, coloured scarves, so I started doing that,” she says. “It also makes me feel closer to my ancestors and my Thai culture, knowing this is how they wrapped their hair. Whenever I cook in the kitchen, it almost feels like my ancestors are watching over me.”
Steel-toed boots are also a must. “I feel safe in the kitchen wearing them,” she explains. “If sharp knives or hot foods accidentally fall on the floor, I know my toes will be safe!”
While she’ll wear a Thai-inspired chef’s jacket on special occasions, Regular deliberately chooses to wear a basic uniform sourced from Chef Works most days. “I’ve tried to wear a traditional outfit from Thailand in the kitchen, but it didn’t work. I felt like it was too much of a distraction, and there was a more relaxed and casual feel from my team, like if we were off work,” she says. “Whereas when I switched over to my chef’s jacket, it was back to business as usual.”
Mikey Kim, Milou
Whether he’s whipping up plates at the ultra-buzzy Milou or off duty, chances are you’ll find Mikey Kim wearing a baseball cap. “It’s just my thing,” says Kim, who names the TK as his current favourite hat. “I wear a cap to prevent hair from getting in the food, but I also wear them outside of work.”
Invariably, you’ll also find him in a pair of Dickies pants. “They are wide enough to allow movement and they are super durable,” he says. “They last forever before ripping.”
While he’ll often wear white pants — “I’m extra” — Kim recommends the trusty combination of short-sleeve chef’s whites, a black apron and dark pants to remain relatively presentable in the kitchen. In the event of a rogue stain, he uses a mix of equal parts vinegar and laundry detergent, left to soak for five minutes and then scrubbed off. “If the stain remains, dissolve a half cup baking soda in hot water and let it soak for five minutes,” he says. “This should get rid of most stains.”
Kim’s streetwear-leaning esthetic means his shoes of choice are Vans or Nikes, but he never wears street shoes in the kitchen. “Sometimes there are accidental spills or grease and the floors can get dangerously slippery,” he says. “Always try to wear shoes with non-slip soles.” He likes the Birkenstock Tokio Super Grip.
“I can’t stress enough how important shoes are,” he concludes. “As cooks, we’re on our feet all day and night, and the feet are where all the problems start. Your feet will determine the longevity and quality of your career, so take care of them!”
Kyle Rindinella, Ristorante Sociale
Carmy may be famous for his kitchen tee, but Kyle Rindinella’s just not a fan.
“I always found the neck of a bib apron would annoy me (with a T-shirt), so I always go for something with a collar,” says the chef at new King West eatery Ristorante Sociale, an Enoteca Sociale sister spot.
When Rindinella’s in the kitchen, expect to find him either in a mechanic’s shirt or a chef’s coat from industry fave Chef Works. “They have great ventilation in the sides that fit great,” says Rindinella, who’s big on keeping things breezy at work. “I look for pieces that have good airflow and that I feel good wearing for 12 hours.”
Pieces that fit that criteria include Uniqlo’s black jeans (they’ve got the perfect amount of give); white leather Birkenstocks (“not only the most comfortable shoes I have found, they always start a conversation being all white”); and two tried-and-tested apron styles: a blue denim number by author and chef Christine Flynn, and Blunt Roll versions he’s had forever.
If he’s working service on the dining room floor, however, Rindinella likes to dress up a bit. “I find myself gravitating to wearing collared dress shirts, a tie and a blazer,” he says. “Usually with something fun like a farfalle pasta-shaped gold pin.”
When it comes to his stain-vs-whites tips, Rindinella has a hard recommend: Linda, an Italian laundry bar soap. “It’s my go-to helper for getting stains out of anything,” he says. “Whether I’m working in the kitchen or on the floor during service, the Linda bar helps get any stain out and it’s very affordable!”
Umberto Aceto, Petty Cash
One word guides every choice Umberto Aceto makes when getting dressed for work: freedom. “Being unrestricted is essential in the kitchen, to ensure you are able to move quickly and efficiently,” says the newly minted executive chef at the fun downtown spot Petty Cash.
Integral to this are “well-fitted” vented-back, short-sleeve chef coats. On weekdays, he likes a white coat from Chef’s Warehouse, while Saturdays see him in a more casual navy button-down. “The one piece that overlaps is my black Rag & Bone boot-cut jeans,” he says. “They transition so easily from a service to a night out on the town after work.”
While he’s got his uniform down now, he did have a memorable faux pas early in his career. “I tried to wear charcoal grey suede boots my first week at Buca and my chef de cuisine said, ‘This is not a fashion show,’” he recalls. These days, you’ll find him in his trusty Blundstone boots, beloved for their ankle support.
As for his advice for keeping chef’s whites Carmy levels of pristine: “Petty Cash pizza sauce, blood or jus — just hit it with Tide to Go ASAP. Acting quickly is part of the process to get the results you want,” he says. If that doesn’t work? Outsource it, like most kitchens do when it comes to their uniforms. “Trust your linen service,” Aceto says. “They can get stains out better than we can.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
does not endorse these opinions.