Sous Chef: Job Duties, Employment Outlook and Training Requirements

Research what it takes to become a sous chef. Learn about employment outlook, salary and training requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Sous Chef?

Sous chefs help prepare and cook simple foods for the head chef in restaurants and other eating establishments. While they work directly under the head chef, sous chefs also oversee the cooks that work in the facility and keep the head chef abreast of their activities. Sous chefs must be dexterous with kitchen tools and utensils, be able to think creatively about recipes and ingredients and have strong business, communication and leadership skills.

This table explains job duties, training requirements, optional certifications and career outlook.

Training Required On-the-job training; apprenticeships and internships are other options
Key Skills Physical stamina, attention to detail, time management, sense of taste and smell
Certification Certification from American Culinary Federation is optional
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% (for all chefs and head cooks)*
Median Salary (2015) $40,521 (for all sous chefs)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Does a Sous Chef Do?

The highest ranked chef in a restaurant is an executive or head chef. The sous (a French word meaning 'under') chef is the second in the chain of command. As a sous chef, your duties may include preparing ingredients for the head cook or chef. You might cut up fruits and vegetables, mix spices, prepare meats and other tasks. You could also prepare simple dishes for patrons. Additionally, the sous may be responsible for keeping the kitchen properly stocked with food and utensils and cleaning up each day.

What is the Employment Outlook?

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment is expected to be faster than average, about nine percent. This growth is credited to consumers having more income and desire to eat meals out rather than at home. Chefs will have more choices for work with more restaurants expected to open over the next decade. Chefs typically have high turnover rates due to the amount of time and energy required for the job; sous chefs that have worked for at least a few years will have the best job outlook.

What Training Do I Need?

You have a few options when selecting a training program, although most sous chefs learn through on-the-job training, internships and apprenticeships. Prior work experience is often the major contributing factor toward full-time employment, and you'll want to choose an option that helps you acquire experience. A typical culinary arts apprenticeship program involves hands-on experience where you'll cook and prepare food under an expert chef. This work experience may be paid in some programs.

Alternatively, high schools and technical colleges often offer classes, certificate programs and degrees in food preparation or other suitable areas. As a student in one of these programs, you might take a culinary food preparation program with courses in catering, banquets, baking, food safety and sanitation.

Certification may prove beneficial if you're a sous chef interested in working for more upscale restaurants. The American Culinary Federation offers one certification often preferred by employers. This certificate allows chefs, regardless of specialty, to showcase their cooking, nutrition, sanitary and food preparation skills against the industry benchmarks.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several careers related to that of sous chefs that don't require any formal training or degrees. Cooks work under sous chefs and help prepare and make food. Bakers are similar to cooks, though they focus their skills on baked goods, such as breads and pastries. Food servers may help prepare some foods in a restaurant, but their jobs mainly revolve around the customer service aspect of the restaurant industry. Food service managers are in charge of the day-to-day running of a food service business and will need a high school diploma.

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