The September restart is upon us. Which means the cover goes back on the grill, the cookbooks come off the shelf, and the range starts to look a little less lonely.
Most home cooks need a jump-start to inspire the dreaded nightly supper and the fussy family members around the table. Our approach is to put yourself on the best dressed list . . . for the kitchen, that is. All you need is a serious apron.
Today’s apron fashion often dictates something long — just look at the waiters in any chic bistro — and in a color as bright as school-bus yellow or as muted as subtle charcoal. You can find linen aprons, and styles in denim, durable duck cloth, waxed canvas, and more. At the top of the lines are artisanal details such as hand-sewn leather neck straps and pockets.
“This is part of presenting a handsome lifestyle to everyone,” says Michael Russem, who opened Shop Fog Linen in Cambridge in March with his wife, Julie Baine, after running it for two years as an e-commerce business. “People are photographing everything they do, even styling their sandwiches, and this is part of it.”
Style, of course, doesn’t usually come cheap. Russem says the Japanese-designed aprons in the shop, which cost $46-$64, are streamlined for both form and function. “We’re big proponents of less being more. Essentially we don’t want people to be afraid of them. If we make them too complicated or precious, they get in the way of them doing their job, which is essentially to keep people clean,” he says.
Shop Fog’s “garcon” style is a half-apron made of 100 percent linen, with pockets; it comes down to the calf. A full apron, also in linen, is offered in khaki, watch plaid, gray, and navy.
All tony restaurant chef-owners are decked out in a professional apron that’s probably a little more durable than linen. The sleek apron appeals to some cooks for whom the chef’s jacket seems affected, showy, or just too hot.
Michael Scelfo, chef and owner at Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square, is among the apron converts. “I was trying to strip all the pretension out of my cooking. The more I did, the more uncomfortable in the chef’s coat I felt. It wasn’t me anymore,” he says. “How many restaurants opening today are putting three wine glasses and white linens on the table? It’s not current.”
Scelfo relies on several brands to outfit himself and his staff of 24. When doing intensive knife work, he prefers a stiffer, heavier denim apron from Toronto-based Blunt Roll, with leather straps and pockets that can double as a knife roll. More often than not, guests dining on his seared eggplant and sweet-corn gnocchi are likely to find him sporting a lighter style by Hedley & Bennett of Los Angeles. Bartenders and servers wear Birdkage, which are, at $26 a pop, a relatively affordable investment for Scelfo. Those might be a navy cotton-canvas bib apron, or one with navy stripes that has been wash-treated for a faded look.
“You’re dropping $8,000 on your aprons,” says the chef, who compares the budget line to his point of sale system.
Some aprons cost as much as a pair of designer jeans. A waxed cotton-canvas Birdkage is $120 while Blunt Roll’s Shucker Apron, with a leather front, costs $160 and an all-leather version is $280.
Jennifer Hill says customers at her kitchen and gift boutiques, which include KitchenWares by Blackstones and Reflections, both on Newbury Street, won’t pay three figures for an apron. Instead, she carries Garnier-Thiebaut linen ones ($60-$75), in patterns inspired by and manufactured in France, and a gathered bib style with a prairie quality from The Vermont Apron Co. ($58).
Daily use is the standard by which Jacqueline Church rates her aprons, but the Boston owner of Kitchen Confidence, a private cooking-instruction business, wears hers paired with a chef’s jacket. “I like to have my sleeves covered. When you get to a certain frequency and fanaticism of cooking and there’s food all over the place, I like the convenience of a jacket,” she says. Church wears a folded black or white denim bib apron around her waist, and loops a towel in front around the tied belt. “I tend not to go for the frilly ones,” she says. “I like more of the clean designs.”
Church sees room for improvement. “I want an apron made out of cool gel. Wouldn’t it be cool to make a ventilated one?” she asks.
Not for Chris Kimball, founder of Cooks Illustrated and host of “America’s Test Kitchen,” who believes “all the bells and whistles” on today’s aprons are unnecessary. “Where you put your thermometer and towels — in the long run, it doesn’t work,” he says. “All you need, practically speaking, is a cotton white apron. Its function is very straightforward.” On his TV show, the bow-tied cook often wears a red bib apron imprinted with the show logo.
But basic white isn’t lively enough for apron enthusiasts like Lisa Falso. “I’ve always loved fashion and there’s not much you can do for fashion in the culinary world,” says the supervisor of culinary programs at Boston University Metropolitan College. With her 40-plus (and counting) apron collection, Falso, who alternates between black and white chef’s jackets by Cayson Design, takes pride in her professional wardrobe, counting among her favorites a short cotton one made of heavy-duty canvas with big grommets by Lincoln-based designer Shannon Reed. Falso often works with French chef and author Jacques Pepin when he teaches the culinary students (Pepin typically wears a white Cayson jacket and traditional white apron). She has watched his video tutorials about how to properly tie aprons and follows them to the letter.
Falso dry cleans most of her apron wardrobe. “I like them nicely pressed,” she says.
That high standard of care resonates with Russem, who has seen many of his customers wear Shop Fog Linen’s cross-style apron “out and about in public.” The cross-style has a squared-off bib with thick linen straps that criss-cross at the back to close the apron.
“They’re wearing them as dresses,” Russem says. “I always want to say, ‘Nice apron.’ But I also don’t want to say I’ve caught them.”
Blunt Roll www.thebluntroll.com
Cayson Designs 800-971-2433, www.caysondesigns.com
Hedley & Bennett 213-744-1355, www.hedleyandbennett.com
KitchenWares by Blackstones
215 Newbury St., Boston, 857-366-4237, www.kitchenwaresboston.com
Reflections 223 Newbury St., Boston, 857-233-4216, www.reflectionsboston.com
Shannon Reed 617-504-9659, www.shannonreed.com
Shop Fog Linen 35 Sacramento St.,
Cambridge, 617-576-1600, www.shop-foglinen.com