The first written evidence of the phrase “kiss the cook” is in an Italian-English dictionary by Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti, published posthumously in 1813. He translates the phrase Chi tardi arriva male alloggia as, “they that come too late must kiss the cook.”
But how did the phrase jump from dictionary definition to novelty apron?
In 1817, William Beloes’ The Sexagenarian; or, the Recollections of a Literary Life in Two Volumes was reviewed and excerpted in a well-regarded literary journal that “commanded unprecedented power and influence from the 1820s through the 1840s.” The review included an excerpt that reads, “At a dinner where great satisfaction was expressed, it was facetiously proposed that the president should proceed to the kitchen, and kiss the cook.”
After that and throughout the 1800s, the phrase “kiss the cook” appeared in poems, short quips, and newspaper articles. In a New York Tribune piece from 1897 titled “How She Got It,” a man explains why his wife ended up with a beautiful bonnet that he had intended to give to a cook with whom he was having an affair. After entering the kitchen with said bonnet, he was surprised to find his wife there and not the cook. He was forced to give his wife the gift and “kiss the cook” instead.
The 1897 poem “I Kissed the Cook” by James Courtney Challiss leads the reader to believe that the speaker is cheating on his wife, only to reveal in the last lines, “The cook’s my wife, is she, So I’d a right, you see, to kiss the cook.” Multiple stories playing off this poem appeared after its initial publication, including “Everybody is Happy,” a piece of micro-fiction that was printed in a 1908 issue of The Boston Daily Globe:
Smith - Excuse me, Jones, but may I ask how you manage to have such delicious things to eat? Jones - It is quite simple. I always kiss the cook before dinner, and hold her on my knee after dinner. Smith - But what does your wife say? “O. she doesn’t object—she’s the cook!” - Stray Stories.
“Kiss the Cook” first made the leap onto apparel in the 1950s. A 1955 advertisement in Women’s Wear Daily describes matching "Kiss the Cook" pajamas, scuffs, and apron made by Kaylon, Inc.
In the 1980s, two department stores—Woodward’s in Canada and Bullocks in California, Arizona, and Nevada—began selling their own “Kiss the Cook” merchandise.
But what may have had the biggest impact didn’t come until 1989 on Married...With Children when Al Bundy—played by Ed O’Neill— wore an apron that said, “Kiss the Cook - Kill the Wife” during the season four premiere of the popular FOX sitcom.
From there, “Kiss the Cook” became the BBQ apron of choice for dads everywhere, perhaps to the point of oversaturation. Even Al Roker loathes the cliché. His 2002 BBQ book includes this bit of advice: “Do not wear an apron that says ‘Kiss the Cook.’”
So keep that in mind when you're scrambling for last minute Father’s Day gifts. All that marked-down “Kiss the Cook” merchandise has a history, after all.