There are two things you might not know about a chef’s hat, those towering and pleated white caps that are part and parcel of a gastronomical genius’s uniform. First, the correct name is a chef’s toque, the French word for "hat." Second, they usually have exactly 100 folds. And that number is for a good reason.
According to Bon Appétit, it's often said that the number of folds represent the number of ways you can prepare an egg.
To dig into the origins of this culinary mythology, it helps to know where chef toques came from. While history is slightly fuzzy on their definitive origin, one tale involves Greek chefs fleeing from Byzantine invaders around 146 BCE and taking refuge in monasteries, where the tall stovepipe-style hats of the monks helped them blend in. After the need for a disguise was gone, the chefs continued wearing the hats as a fraternal kind of attire.
Much later, in the 1800s, the toque blanche (white hat) was a common sight in kitchens and linked to the belief that white symbolized cleanliness. The idea was allegedly propagated by the chef for Charles Talleyrand, the first French prime minister. In the early days of French cuisine, the number of pleats were intended to represent the number of recipes a chef had mastered for a given food, like egg or chicken. Having a hat with 100 pleats meant you were a master chef.
This idea also applied to the height of the hat. The taller the toque, the more a chef knew. If you saw a chef with a towering cap, you could be sure they were likely the head of the kitchen. Marie Antoine Carême, considered a pioneering French chef in the 1800s, was said to have worn one 18 inches in height—so tall it needed cardboard support.
Toques aren’t necessarily standard attire anymore, but they still represent a devotion to the craft of cooking, and both their frills and height speak to a long tradition of mastering the art. After all, anyone who knows 100 different ways to prepare an egg is surely a fork to be reckoned with.
[h/t Bon Appétit]