What Is a Sous Chef?

A sous chef is the second-in-command to the executive chef in a kitchen and helps oversee food production. Read on to find out more about what a sous chef does and the skills necessary to become one. Schools offering Art of Cooking degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

An Outline of the Sous Chef Position

A sous chef, also called a sub chef, is the second highest-ranking professional in a restaurant kitchen, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A sous chef often helps the executive chef manage the production of food. If the executive chef is absent or off duty, it's the sous chef's responsibility to run the kitchen. He or she may also be required to schedule other kitchen workers and assist a kitchen's line cook as needed. While it's possible for smaller restaurants not to employ a sous chef, larger restaurants may employ several. Sous chefs typically work full-time.

Important Facts About Chefs and Head Cooks

Median Salary (2014) $41,610 per year
Entry-level Education High school diploma or equivalent
On-the-Job Training Experience and training included; required for advanced positions
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 9% growth
Work Environment Restaurants, hotels, private homes, food service facilities

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Responsibilities and Skills

Sous chefs often work demanding hours, which may include weekends and holidays. Sous chefs should have a passion for food, energy to meet kitchen demands and keen senses of smell and taste. In a restaurant, a sous chef typically selects the daily specials, supervises the staff and takes inventory. A sous chef also has the following responsibilities:

  • Preparing and producing food
  • Overseeing standards for quality and cost
  • Pricing food and planning menus
  • Maintaining safety and sanitation

Training

Many kitchen professionals begin their careers in a lower-ranking kitchen position and work their way up to the level of sous chef. Others earn a culinary arts degree. It is important for a sous chef to not only know how to cook delicious food, but also to understand how a kitchen functions and how the restaurant business works. A culinary education can help aspiring sous chefs learn valuable food preparation skills and procedures and gain a better understanding of the cooking industry.

Some culinary arts programs have an emphasis in sous chef training. You may be able to enroll in an undergraduate certificate program and complete a sous chef apprenticeship, or you could complete an associate's degree program in culinary arts focused on becoming a sous chef. Coursework in these types of programs may include restaurant sanitation and food safety, food production, nutrition, breads and pastries, beverages, saucier, garde manger, gourmet food and international cuisine. You may also complete a field experience or an internship to get practical experience.

What Employers Seek

Based on online job postings for sous chefs in November 2015, having several years of experience in the food service industry is the most important requirement for obtaining a job. Some employers may prefer applicants who hold an associate's or bachelor's degree and have completed a professional internship or other training experience. Holding the ServSafe certification can also help you stand out.

As a sous chef, you may need to train new employees, interact with customers and coordinate efforts across your restaurant. Consequently, you should also have strong skills in communication, customer service, financial accountability, leadership, teamwork and creativity in order to impress employers.

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