Within the ranks and hierarchy of a kitchen, the Sous-Chef is second in command, just under the Executive or Head Chef. In any case when the Executive Chef is unable to perform any of their assigned tasks or is absent from the kitchen, it is the responsibility of the Sous-Chef to step up and take charge of all duties. The name Sous-Chef comes from the French “under the chef”, but a more accurate translation could be “second chef”.
When the Executive Chef is present, the Sous-Chef is in charge of providing assistance in some administrative tasks and handling situations that don’t require the expertise or authority of the first in command. Sous-Chefs participate in the coordination and supervision of all activities that occur inside the kitchen, including planning menus and daily specials, monitoring stocking of ingredients, organizing cooks schedules, and some administrative tasks such as balancing cash flows and overseeing revenue.
Some Chefs may specialize in a certain type of cuisine (e.g. Asian, Ethnic, Mediterranean, and American) or they might prefer a certain type of specialty (e.g. pastry, meat, poultry, fish, and pasta). However, versatility is certainly an asset in the culinary world.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Sous-Chefs are required to complete.
- Overseeing the activities of subordinate Cooks and staff members in order to ensure that quality standards are met and maintained:
- Planning and overseeing the cooking of daily specials and regular items of the menu;
- delegating different tasks to other staff members;
- ensuring that the kitchen operates in a timely manner;
- assisting in maintaining an efficient work environment inside the kitchen;
- responding in a prompt and timely manner to any problem that may arise inside the kitchen and assisting the Executive Chef in resolving them;
- motivating staff members to maintain an efficient job performance;
- establishing working schedules;
- assessing the staff’s performance and providing the necessary feedback; and
- mentoring Junior Chefs and training auxiliary kitchen staff.
- Standing in for the Executive Chef when they are not present or available:
- Managing budgets and stocks, liaising with suppliers, and coordinating the activities of restaurant staff;
- ordering supplies and ingredients to stock inventory appropriately, reviewing purchases whenever necessary;
- following and supervising proper handling and right temperature of all food products; and
- ensuring that all ingredients meet the standard levels of quality.
- Assisting and advising the Executive Chef in menus matters following the establishment’s guidelines and concept:
- Helping in the preparation and design of all food and drinks menus; and
- creating new dishes, menu items, and specials, when required.
- Preparing tasting menus for customers requesting special catering services.
- Cooking dishes according to the menu or as requested by guests, always maintaining a quality level that meets the standards of the establishment and the Head Chef:
- Using kitchen utensils, tools, and cooking methods proficiently;
- producing high-quality plates both design and taste wise; and
- displaying creativity and enhanced culinary techniques and keeping up with the latest culinary trends and techniques.
- Maintaining a positive and professional environment with staff members.
- Developing a business network of suppliers and vendors.
- Following all of the establishment’s safety, hygiene, and security policies and procedures at all times:
- Maintaining the hygiene of the kitchen according to the health inspector’s standards;
- overseeing that sanitation regulations, rules, and procedures are being followed;
- reporting any incidents or injuries to the manager; and
- following all safety and sanitation policies when handling food and beverages.
- Supervising kitchen staff and operations.
- Ensuring quality standards are met.
- Training kitchen staff members.
- Building a network of vendors.
- Taking care of food inventory, making respective orders, and inspecting the kitchen equipment in use.
- Applying industry appropriate safety and hygiene standards in the kitchen.
The average salary for Sous-Chef related jobs is $36,195 per year or $19 per hour. This is around 1.1 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $25,000 while most experienced workers make up to $51,000. These results are based on 336 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Passion for food and creativity.
- Interpersonal, leadership, and communication skills:
- Communicating clearly, both verbally and in writing, in order to create a clear and communicative environment in a very noisy and potentially hazardous kitchen, as well as to be able to give clear instructions and directions to kitchen staff;
- displaying strong customer service skills, as well as leadership;
- being driven to achieve goals, as well as motivating the staff to achieve team goals;
- speaking with staff using clear, professional, and respectful language at all times; and
- being able to deal with a diverse group of people in potentially adversarial situations using a calm, polite, tactful, discreet, and effective approach.
- Organizational and time management skills:
- Having strong multitasking skills; being able to work under pressure in a dynamic, fast-paced environment;
- being highly responsible, committed, and driven;
- being able to work independently with minimal supervision; and
- being organized and having great attention to detail.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making skills:
- Being able to remain calm and make effective decisions in stressful situations; and
- identifying issues and resolving problems in a timely manner.
- Ability to work cohesively as part of a team and possess good judgment.
- Patience and willingness to train and mentor other staff members.
- Self-motivated, decisive, and driven to provide the best service.
- Motor coordination and physical strength:
- Having the ability to make fast, simple, repeated movements of the fingers, hands, and wrists;
- being able to stand for long periods of time in rooms with high temperatures; and
- carrying heavy equipment and supplies.
Aside from the skills listed above, high levels of physical stamina are required to work in this fast paced and sometimes stressful environment. Furthermore, a Sous-Chef must possess both culinary and administrative skills in order for the kitchen to run smoothly and successfully according to the established standards. While a lot of the work consists in following instructions given by the Executive Chef, a lot of creativity is also required as inventive Sous-Chefs willing to create new dishes and techniques often find recognition and it may help them become a Head Chef one day.
Depending on the size and category of the restaurant the level of education and preparation to become a Sous-Chef will vary. Most high-end restaurants require a degree in culinary arts as well as considerable previous experience working in similar establishments. On the other hand, working their way up from Dishwasher or Kitchen Assistant in regular restaurants is very common in this industry. Most culinary schools and courses cover the fundamental aspects of working in a kitchen, including food preparation, sanitation, and some administrative tasks. Some programs even include learning a second language, which is usually French. However, the most important aspect of any course is the practical part, in which students will often shadow a more experienced Cook and assist them in their regular tasks.
Becoming a Sous-Chef doesn’t happen overnight. It often takes many years of practice, discipline, and dedication in the field to work their way up the career ladder. Many of the most celebrated Chefs nowadays started their career from the bottom tier of the kitchen hierarchy and had to earn the respect and admiration they have today through a lot of hard work. There’s no set number of years to become a Sous-Chef as it all depends on the circumstances of each specific case, their talent, their experience, and their dedication to the culinary arts.
In order to become a Sous-Chef, candidates are required to have a minimum of 6 to 10 years of experience in a kitchen and in fine-dining restaurants, as well as strong knowledge of back of house operations (e.g. food and beverages, staff supervision, inventory, and food safety).
Finally, Sous-Chefs don’t typically work on a nine-to-five schedule, they must be able to work late nights, holidays, and weekends, as well as to stand and walk for an 8 to 12-hour long shift.