Define Sous Chef
Sous chef is one of the most sought after position in the culinary industry. This job is second in hierarchy after head chef, which means the person in this position has full control over the kitchen and is directly responsible of the food quality produced there, under his/her supervision. Due to its importance, the job comes with great recognition among peers and clients, but it also implies a high degree of responsibility for the person in charge. While the sous chef job is the dream job for every junior chef or chef-to-be, it is important to fully understand its requirements (sous chef job description) before placing it on your careers short list.
Sous Chef Definition and a Short job description
The sous chef, also known as the under-the-chef of the kitchen, is the professional who assists the head chef and takes his/her place when the latter cannot be present in the kitchen. The name of “sous chef” comes from French and means exactly “under the chef”. Therefore the person occupying this position is directly subordinated to the head chef and has in his/her charge all the other members of the kitchen staff.
The sous chef tasks and responsibilities are diversified and vary from cooking or plating certain dishes to establishing the menu and dealing with the ingredient providers. Therefore the position requires both culinary and managerial skills. In addition to that, solid experience in the kitchen is necessary in order to land a sous chef job. Usually, the sous chefs have a step-by-step ascension which starts with washing dishes and chopping onions.
Tasks and requirements
A sous chef job is highly demanding and implies taking on a great variety of tasks in both culinary and managerial sector. No day is identical to the other when working as a sous chef as there are days in which the menu must be established and there are days in which ingredients must be purchased. The sous chef is in charge of both these activities as well as supervising his/her staff during the kitchen’s working hours. Below there is a list with the most important responsibilities of a sous chef. Some of the tasks may or may not be performed by the sous chef, depending on the size of the kitchen as well as on the number of sous chefs in charge of it.
What is a sous chef; A sous chef must:
• Work with the executive chef to produce diversified menus in accordance with the restaurant’s policy and vision;
• Come up with new dishes which appeal to the clients, whenever required;
• Establish the working schedule and organize the work in the kitchen so that everything works like a “well-oiled machinery”;
• Produce high quality dishes that follow up the established menu and level up to location’s standards, as well as to clients’ requirements;
• Plan the food design in order to create a perfect match between the dish’s aspect and its taste;
• Discover talented chefs and train them in order to reach the high standards of the location;
• Train the auxiliary kitchen staff in order to provide best results in minimum time and using at the maximum the available resources;
• Maintain order and discipline in the kitchen during working hours;
• Create tasting menus for clients interested in contracting the food for different events (wedding, banquets, corporate dinners, birthday parties, etc.)from their kitchen;
• Developing a cross-marketing strategy in order to increase profit, such as pairing drinks with the food served;
• Make sure the hygiene and food safety standards are met in all stages of food preparation, starting with the ingredients and ending with the finished dish which leaves the kitchen door;
• Make sure that the professional equipment is in good conditions and signal any malfunction before it affects the staff or the clients.
Sous chefs work in high end restaurants as well as in catering restaurants and canteens of different institutions. Each one of these establishments has different hours of functioning; therefore the sous chef schedule varies in accordance to the hours in which the kitchen is open. In a la carte restaurants, the sous chefs work in shifts, which enables them to have the kitchen covered from the early hours of the morning (when breakfast is served) to late night (when last clients finish their dinner). On the other hand, the sous chefs working in canteens have regular 9 to 5 office hours.
Sous Chef Resume: Education and experience
The sous chef job does not require any type of education or formal training as long as the candidate has the necessary skills and the requested experience. A high school degree or equivalent and solid cooking experience is all it takes to become a sous chef. However, graduating specialized courses adds extra points in the eyes of the employer. This type of programs helps the aspiring chefs acquire useful cooking and food safety information which will be applicable later on, in their job. Furthermore, a bachelor degree may accelerate the ascension on the professional ladder.
Culinary institutes, technical schools and community schools offer culinary arts programs which take 2 to 4 years. Attending these programs, the aspiring chefs learn all about hygiene and sanitary rules in the kitchen, are taught how improve their culinary skills and get insight into food purchase. Some programs also include managerial courses which help students in better organizing the staff in the kitchen. American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers their support for aspiring sous chefs by sponsoring different apprenticeship programs which combine theoretical courses with hands-on training.
Experience, however, is paramount when selecting a sous chef. Usually the chef has been in the kitchen for at least 10 years before acceding into a sous chef position. This ensures that the individual is well prepared from a culinary point of view and has enough maturity to handle the entire kitchen staff.
Sous Chef Salary
The salary of a sous chef depends on the employment location. The best paid jobs are in high end restaurants, while the restaurants in institutions usually have a lower level of payment. The pay check may also vary in accordance to other factors, such as current economic conditions, level of formal education, years of experience and amount of responsibilities associated with the position. Generally the sous chef salary varies between $30,000 and $50,000 per year for a professional with less than 20 year experience in culinary industry.
USA – the average annual payment for a sous chef in the United States is $44,810. Bonuses for high performance may add up to $1,000 to the annual paycheck. Other benefits include compensation for pension, social security, disability, 401K/403B, healthcare and time off. If we calculate the bonuses and all benefits, we reach a total compensation of $65, 955 per year.
Canada – the annual sous chef salary in Canada is estimated to C$40, 545, with variations depending on the above mentioned factors. The salary variation stays within the C$30,455 – C$53,090 limits. Bonuses can significantly increase the paycheck, especially when working in high end restaurants.
A sous chef with experience and good skills may be promoted in a higher position when the chance occurs. The positions available for promotion are executive chef and head chef. Usually, a sous chef becomes an executive or a head chef after a period of working in the respective kitchen. The executive chef and the head chef can be promoted to managerial positions and the places left empty are generally occupied by the sous chef.
However, there are also cases in which the sous chef applies for a higher position in a competing kitchen, especially when there is no chance of promotion in the near future. Another promotion prospective is to be upgraded to the kitchen manager position.
Currently the market for sous chefs is stabilized; therefore the demand for professionals in the field is not estimated to grow too much along the years. Until 2020 the number of jobs for sous chefs will increase only by 5%.
The sous chef has both managerial and culinary responsibilities; therefore he/she needs to excel in both domains in order to successfully conduct all the assigned duties. Here are the most important professional skills and abilities required from a sous chef.
Monitoring skills – the sous chef is responsible for the entire activity from the kitchen; therefore they must possess great monitoring abilities, while also performing their regular duties.
Time management – the sous chef must estimate the necessary time needed for each dish, as well as the time spent by each staff member when preparing different meals. They need to perfectly organize the kitchen so that every minute is used wisely. Delays or wasted time affects the kitchen’s performances. Also, the sous chef must estimate the necessary time for culinary tasks as well as the time which must be devoted to the managerial duties so as to perfectly handle all responsibilities.
Management of finances and resources – in charge with establishing the ingredient list, the wine list and menu, the sous chef must properly manage the available finances and resources.
Good communication abilities – the sous chef is in constant communication with the head chef and executive chef (the higher authorities), as well as with the kitchen staff, ingredient providers, technical staff which maintains the cooking machineries in order and even with the clients. Therefore, he/she must know how to adjust their discourse in accordance with the targeted audience.
Active listening and learning – understanding what people say, asking questions for an insight into the problem and gathering information for a solution are essential when coordinating a team, whether it is in the kitchen or outside it.
Teaching abilities – the sous chef must train the subordinate chefs and auxiliary kitchen staff, therefore they need a teaching strategy which conveys the information clearly and in an accessible manner.
Analysis and evaluation – after each month, an evaluation is made to observe the progress made by the staff. The analysis and evaluation must be done individually (for each member of the staff) as well as for the kitchen staff as a whole in order to observe how the team interacts and works together.
Computer skills – the sous chef may need to keep in touch with the providers via internet or may need to introduce information on the computer, therefore good computer skills are required in order to fulfill these tasks.
Technical information – most restaurant kitchens have specific machineries which make cooking easy. The sous chef must make sure they are all in good condition and cannot hurt the staff if used properly. When machinery is broken, he/she needs to call for professionals to fix it.
The sous chef job is very rewarding, but it also requires a lot of passion, devotion and perseverance. Therefore, not anyone can become a chef, let alone a sous chef. In terms of personal behavior, here are the most important features that an aspiring sous chef must display.
Attention to detail – it is essential that the plates are perfect when they leave the kitchen and the sous chef must check his/her work as well as the work done by the subordinates. A critic eye will instantly see possible issues and will fix them along the way.
Initiative – cooking for others is an art in which one must always innovate. A person with initiative and passion for this domain will certainly have a smoother path towards success.
Flexibility – working in a kitchen along with a group of people may lead to unexpected situations. The sous chef must be flexible and adapt easy to the new working conditions, so that the results are always the best.
Good stress tolerance – when cooking for others, the responsibility is huge and so is the level of stress. A good sous chef has a great stress tolerance and transforms negative emotions into edible works of art.
Leadership – the sous chef is a good leader, who works along the team for the perfect plates. He/she imposes respect through attitude and through the good choices made along the way.
Works perfect in team – working in a kitchen requires good team spirit, as in most cases a well-organized team has much better results than the same number of individuals working on their own.
A sous chef job is one of the most reputable positions in culinary hierarchy. It brings prestige and opens the gates for public recognition for many highly qualified chefs. However, it requires discipline, intensive work, a lot of passion, a thorough preparation at the workplace and an active mind, always ready to learn and be challenged. If you love cooking and feel you have all it takes to become a sous chef, work hard for your dream and nothing can stand in your way!