This decade might be known for the rise of the celebrity chef. Thanks to blogs and the endless churn of culinary shows from Top Chef to No Reservations.
But when it comes to gear, cuisine maestros still don the obligatory white or black apron. And, of course, there’s Mario Batali and his crocs.
Ellen Bennett is the garde manger for the cold booth —oysters, fish, etc. — at Providence in Los Angeles, whose chef Michael Cimarusti is a frequent Top Chef judge. She’s also the founder of Hedley & Bennett, a line of chef aprons made from Japanese selvage denim in Downtown Los Angeles, named for her grandfather Hedley Bennett.
Bennett dived into making chef aprons when her boss Josef Centeno from Baco Mercat and Lazy Ox was ordering 40. She convinced Centeno to allow her to make them and “hit the street running” to fulfill the order. And because the aprons were tested in a restaurant kitchen, Bennett was able to refine them as a work-in-progress by fiddling with strap width and hardware.
Bennett, a 25-year-old who apprenticed mainly through culinary internships in Italy, Greece and Mexico, wasn’t keen on the standard kitchen wear. “We were given aprons that cut into your neck and into your side and the polyester fabric is hot and uncomfortable,” she says. Bennett used her misgivings with a typical chef apron as a basis for everything she didn’t want in Hedley & Bennett. She took the basic shape and made it longer or wider, added pockets and reversible fabrics that are durable and washable.
For a company less than a year old, Hedley & Bennett’s aprons have been embraced by all the blue-chip chefs, a testimony to the limited offerings that were available beforehand. Michael Cimarusti is partial to the Kumamoto ($98), because it’s reversible thus he can flip in case one side gets stained. Thomas ($78) is based on a traditional bragard for Thomas Keller, who wears Hedley & Bennett. Other Hedley & Bennett wearers are Josiah Citrin, Ludovic Lefebvre, Hedy Goldsmith, Nancy Silverton, Raphael Lunetta and Alton Brown.
Although Hadley & Bennett is a full-time job, with 10 employees, including sewers and cutters, Bennett is not ready to abandon the kitchen just yet, hence the part-time gig at Providence. “That’s where it started,” she says. For spring, Hedley & Bennett is introducing a colorful linen collection. And next up, look for are reversible skull caps, children’s aprons and bags for chef knives and tools.