In most home kitchens, aprons only get pulled out for “Kiss the Cook” barbecue duty or frilly, whipped-cream-covered role-playing (hey, we don’t judge), but in pro kitchens they’re a daily utilitarian necessity.
Chefs wear aprons because they’re easier to launder than whites and checked pants, and cheaper to replace when ruined. And there’s no question that at home, it’s far better to have a tomato squirt onto your apron than onto your dry-clean-only cashmere sweater.
Cute aprons are all the rage, but trends end, so don’t get stuck with a stack of last year’s fashions. Plus, a little blood spatter here and a grease splatter there, and you’ll look like Britney Spears on a bad night out. A good apron should protect your clothes and be comfortable, but hold up to wear and tear. Though you can find aprons everywhere from Williams-Sonoma to Anthropologie, the classic working aprons are still the best.
Blue Travail Chef Apron
By Bragard, $25
In French kitchens, the nearly universal prep-time cover-up is a blue, knee-length, tieback apron that covers your chest. This Travail (pronounced “truh-VYE”—French for work) model from Bragard steps it up over similar-looking but flimsy cotton-poly blends in hefty linen and cotton—like the company’s side-towels I love. These work aprons are lightweight and quick to dry, yet durable and won’t look threadbare after just a few months of hard wear.
One size fits most, though I have seen some impressively portly chefs make these aprons look like baby bibs. The neck strap is adjustable, and the extralong straps are designed to wrap around your waist, then tie in front—it’s far easier than reaching around and tying blind in back. (It also foils a favorite kitchen prank of untying your fellow chefs’ aprons.) The chest-covering bib consists of two layers of fabric, to better protect you where you’re most likely to get splashed. The apron is machine washable and dryable, but looks best after a quick iron to restore its crisp appearance—which is a badge of honor in a pro kitchen, partly so visiting diners will actually want to eat what you’re making.
This model does not come with a pocket, which I wouldn’t use anyway because I think it looks sloppy, but just so you know.
Custom embroidery is available starting at $10 for the first line.
A few generations ago, chefs doing their own butchering in the kitchen wore leather aprons to protect themselves from blood, guts, and cuts. The aprons were durable and fairly water resistant, but weighty and unhygienic because they’d absorb some liquids yet could never be washed. Now in their place you’ll find variations of plastic-coated aprons, from some that are no more than shaped garbage bags to this Safran apron by Clement, a French company known for bringing modern materials into kitchens where mere cotton is still a staple. The Safran aprons are made of waterproof but flexible polyurethane, and while they’re already relatively lightweight, they have a harness system—kind of like open-back overalls—to keep the weight of a simple neck-strap loop from causing strain.
The Safran aprons are also heat resistant up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, but I wouldn’t recommend cooking in them for any length of time because you will get hot and sweaty—unless that’s your intention, and then it might double as a spa treatment.
Again, one size fits most, with adjustable neck and waist straps. The Safran aprons are not machine washable, but do keep clean with a simple wipe of a sponge.
They’re also available in white for those who like the bloodstained look while butchering (the brown mutes the red).
Tempshield gloves are de rigueur when working with liquid nitrogen, and while I’m not the type to get all matchy-matchy, I also recommend the company’s Cryo-Apron. It protects your chest, thighs, and nether regions from splashes of extreme cold. It’s cold resistant down to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit and actually heat resistant up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Use it when whipping up Homaru Cantu’s frozen “Spanish Truffles.”
The Cryo-Apron is lightweight—you won’t feel like you’re walking around the kitchen wrapped in a comforter—and breathable. The neck and waist straps adjust with backpack-type buckles on the side to whip the apron quickly on and off, especially important in an emergency spill. It’s machine washable, but not dryable—air dry recommended.
The Cryo-Apron is waterproof, but like I warned you with the gloves, it isn’t designed to be dunked in liquid nitrogen (unless you want to shatter it and risk your aforementioned nether regions).