The Sous Chef – Second In Command
When you eat out at a restaurant and your food is served, do you ever wonder what exactly is going on in the back kitchen?
Who prepares your meal? Who plates it? Who is the person that ensures that your eggplant Parmesan gets set in front of you just how you ordered it?
The Kitchen Brigade System was developed in the 1800’s to structure and organize the duties in a professional kitchen. The Kitchen Brigade mimics a conveyor belt system, in which everyone has a specific task they must complete effectively and efficiently so that the subsequent person can do their own part to help get the food out of the kitchen and directly onto your plate.
One of the most important duties in the established Kitchen Brigade hierarchy is the Sous Chef. This is the man or woman that keeps the “conveyer belt” running smoothly, and ensures that your salad gets delivered to you on time—sans cilantro.
Many terms in the professional culinary word have a French origin and “Sous” is the French word for under or beneath. So, it makes sense that this is the job position that works directly under the Head or Executive Chef. The Sous Chef is the right-hand man to the Chef de Cuisine and oversees the hands-on preparation aspects of your meal.
The Sous Chef’s job is to always—under all circumstances—back the Head Chef. They may aid the Chef with menu planning or help direct the kitchen staff.
Yet despite having a bit of power, The Sous Chef is a middle management position: he or she must still work long hours in the kitchen without receiving much credit for the preparation of a meal. It is generally the Head Chef that will receive most of the recognition.
And despite having more hands-on responsibilities, the Sous Chef receives a distinctively smaller salary than an Executive Chef. However, this is a stepping-stone position that is intended to move someone up in rank to a head job—provided that he or she has put in long hours of often thankless work.
The Sous Chef helps to prepare and cook meals at each station. He or she also oversees the kitchen staff, ensuring that the prepared food coincides with the carefully planned menu.
The Sous Chef may create the daily specials, organize stations, and direct traffic in the kitchen to keep everyone on task. If the Head Chef is unavailable on a specific night, it is the Sous Chef duty to step in and be able to make quick and appropriate decisions on their feet. In short, a smoothly running kitchen is dependent the person who is second-in-command.
Communication is Key
The Sous Chef should be the mouth piece of the Chef de Cuisine. It is their duty to interact effectively with kitchen staff members, relay messages, and most importantly, lead by example. Because the head honcho is generally only seen by line cooks in a top managerial position, the Sous Chef must visibly carry out the Head Chef’s culinary visions while working in the kitchen.
How to Become a Sous Chef
Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you want to be a Sous Chef and become directly involved with almost every decision-making process in the kitchen, you are going to need experience. It may take years of working as a kitchen staff member or dish washer, but a Sous Chef needs to have plenty of experience so that they are extremely familiar with kitchen procedures and a variety of food-preparation styles.
At any moment, a Sous Chef may need to step in and take over a specific kitchen task, and experience is the only way to prepare you for this type of responsibility.
To increase your chance of job placement, it may be important to attend an accredited culinary school. There are hundreds of schools around the country that offer degree and diploma programs for prospective chefs. Receiving your degree in Culinary Arts is an important step forward in reaching your intended career goals.
Salary of Sous Chef
The salary of a Sous Chef is dependent on your personal qualifications, the type of education you have received, the city you are working in, and the restaurant to which you have been hired. The annual pay range for a Sous Chef is anywhere between $25,000 and $50,000*
If you are looking to hold a lot of responsibility in the kitchen and work hands-on in the professional culinary world, consider a career as a Sous Chef.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.