Once upon a time, T-shirts were simply underwear, an extra layer of insulation worn under dress shirts or lumberjack plaids.
When they eventually ventured outside -- soloing as a sartorial statement -- it was to tout rock bands, sports teams, the ubiquitous smiley face and the advisability of making love, not war. But lately, we've been seeing a very specific type of tee worn by chefs and foodies, alike, and what they're touting is tripe, lard and other edibles.
We're not talking about Planet Hollywood tees or joke shirts with doughnuts chasing doughnut holes ("You complete me"). We're talking clever, chef-inspired foodie fashion, such as the "Bacon is the new black" T-shirts from Ryan Farr's 4505 Meats in San Francisco, and Prather Ranch's "Praise the Lard" tees, sold at the San Francisco Ferry Building.
In fact, there's now an entire line of casual culinary fashion options available, thanks to a clever Los Angeles-based T-shirt designer who has begun marketing "Acid Trip" shirts -- with a squirt of lemon -- from Chicago chef Rick Tramonto and tees designed for San Francisco's Chris Cosentino and Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre of LudoBites fame. Lefebvre's shirts warn bystanders to keep their hands off his foie gras.
"It's an avenue for more expression," says Dominique Crenn, the chef behind San Francisco's Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn. "Funny but serious, too."
Flavour Gallery was the brainchild of former music manager Alfredo Malatesta, whose high-end, retro AC/DC and ZZ Top shirts helped launch the mock-vintage rock 'n' roll T-shirt trend in the early 2000s. Two years ago, Malatesta and his wife began looking for a new niche.
"We're both passionate about food," the Peruvian-born T-shirt designer says. "Everything revolves around food, from our travels to what we enjoy doing on weekends."
They started thinking about the uniforms worn by artists. A surfer wears trunks or a wet suit when he's practicing his art, Malatesta says, but out of the water "the surfer puts on his Quicksilver, his Billabong, very powerful brands that reflect their identity and passion."
When chefs doff their whites, what do they wear? So they made a few food shirts -- with knives stacked high or "mise en place" splayed across a high-quality, black cotton tee. They gave a nod to Paris' Jazz Age with Le Boeuf sur le Toit -- a favorite of Washington, D.C., chef and former Top Chef-testant Spike Mendelsohn. And they started sending the shirts out, hoping to drum up interest among the biggest foodies of them all, the organizers of the Pebble Beach and South Beach food and wine festivals, and people such as Cosentino -- the "Top Chef Masters" winner, executive chef of San Francisco's Incanto and proponent of all things offal.
It was late 2011, and the food scene was exploding -- there were cooking and food shows on every channel, save for C-SPAN and ESPN. Food blogs were everywhere.
"Americans are having fun finding their identity and culture through food," Malatesta says. "If they get so happy about putting a picture of the taco they're eating on Instagram and Facebook, they'll like this as well."
Now Malatesta does shirts for the James Beard Foundation -- "Such an honor," he says -- as well as the big festivals, and his line of chef-inspired shirts continues to grow. Cosentino's line includes shirts that proclaim the wearer has been "Inspected for wholesome goodness," a retro "Eat tripe for vim and vigor" and others too naughty to describe here.
And Crenn, who first met Malatesta on Twitter, is designing custom aprons for her kitchen staff. Soon it won't just be the crew at Atelier Crenn wearing her signature dark sage green aprons with baby blue stitching -- the aprons and eventually a line of Crenn-inspired shirts will be available for the public, too.
The design, she says, "looks simple, but it's complex, like my food. It's food and fashion."