Sous Chef Job Description
If you enjoy cooking and know your way around a kitchen, you might flourish in a career as a sous chef. Sous chefs work directly under head chefs and generally assume many of their duties in their absence. The food preparation industry is often a fast-paced one, and sous chefs typically must make quick decisions, work well under pressure, and handle both cooking and administrative duties. Whether they are directly preparing the food or supervising those who are, sous chefs are responsible for food quality and presentation. They are usually full-time employees who might work long hours, particularly evenings and weekends. Creative, quick-thinking decision makers often make successful sous chefs.
Sous Chef Duties and Responsibilities
A sous chef’s duties and responsibilities might not always be the same at every restaurant, but there are similarities no matter the place of employment. Based on job listings we examined, main duties associated with this job include:
Prepare Entrees, Side Dishes, and Other Menu Items
Supervising the preparation of various dishes is the chief responsibility of a sous chef. Sous chefs create and follow recipes for different styles of main foods, side items, and desserts. Preparing and presenting dishes with proper garnishments and portions fall directly to sous chefs. They also make sure all food is cooked thoroughly, that meals are delivered to tables in a timely manner, and, during their off hours, test new recipes.
Maintain Inventory of Kitchen Supplies
From food supplies to utensils, sous chefs are often responsible for maintaining the proper levels of the supplies needed to prepare menu items. Sous chefs place orders with vendors, ensure that enough food preparation items are on hand to meet demand, rotate stock based on freshness dates, and check incoming invoices to make sure that all ordered items have been delivered.
Oversee Kitchen Staff and Employee Schedules
Sous chefs are in command of the kitchen when a head chef is not present. In this role, they maintain kitchen operations by supervising cooking and waitstaff, assign tasks, train new employees, and create employee schedules. They maintain proper coverage throughout different work shifts and resolve any employee conflicts.
Assist with Menu Development
Sous chefs are often responsible for providing input into a restaurant’s menu. They suggest dishes and recipes, keep up on trends in the industry to make sure their restaurant offers popular food items, assist in creating daily specials, and review menus periodically to update offered items.
Ensure Food Safety and Sanitation Standards are Met
Sous chefs ensure compliance with all federal and local food safety and sanitation laws and regulations. This includes overseeing the cleaning and maintenance of food equipment, food handling techniques, safety training for kitchen staff, and preventive maintenance schedules. Sous chefs also meet with safety and sanitation inspectors as needed, as well as maintain inspection records and documents.
Sous Chef Skills and Qualifications
Dedicated self-starters who enjoy working with others and possess time management skills are often best suited for careers as sous chefs. Some type of formal education and a degree in culinary arts is typically favored by employers. The following skills are most commonly sought after by those seeking to hire a sous chef:
- Culinary expertise – sous chefs must be adept at applying various cooking techniques and styles, such as French, Italian, and Mediterranean. They should have the ability to cook appetizers, stocks, soups, desserts, and entrees as requested. In addition, sous chefs should be knowledgeable about preparing special dishes, such as low-sugar, low-sodium, or vegetarian meals for diners with dietary restrictions
- Knife skills – from cutting vegetables to meats, sous chefs should be able to handle a variety of knives, such as meat cleavers and carving knives, as they are called upon to apply appropriate cutting techniques as required
- Communication – sous chefs must demonstrate strong oral and written communication skills to effectively give orders to kitchen staff, interact with customers, and create written reports focusing on supply orders and inventory control
- Management/leadership – as the “second-in-command” when head chefs are absent, sous chefs need to display strong leadership skills in the management of employees and kitchen operations
- Planning and organizing – in order to run their kitchens efficiently—from preparing menus to staying on top of the calendar to organizing all aspects of the kitchen—it’s essential for sous chefs to be detail-oriented planners
- Customer service – all restaurants thrive on customer satisfaction. Sous chefs are sometimes the “face of the kitchen” to patrons; thus, sous chefs should show patience, concern, and sincerity when dealing with customer complaints and making certain restaurant patrons are satisfied with their orders
- Attention to detail – sous chefs must follow precise recipes, ensure the quality presentation of dishes, and maintain adequate employee schedules, all of which require them to be particularly detail-oriented
- Collaboration – to make sure restaurant operations run smoothly, sous chefs must work closely and efficiently with head chefs, restaurant managers, waitstaff, junior cooks, and other employees
- Multitasking – sous chefs must prioritize tasks in their meal preparation while balancing the needs of waitstaff and customers. Being able to think on one’s feet and multitask is crucial to the success of any busy kitchen
Sous Chef Education and Training
Most employers prefer candidates for sous chef positions to possess at least an associate’s and sometimes a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts. In these programs, sous chefs receive a combination of classroom and hands-on learning, the latter through lab classes, internships, and apprenticeship programs. Coursework typically includes cooking techniques and methods, food nutrition, and food service management, as well as basic business courses, such as accounting. Some restaurants might offer on-the-job training in specific cooking, safety, and service protocols.
Sous Chef Salary
According to salary information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sous chefs earn a median annual wage of $43,180. Those earning in the 10th percentile realize a salary of $23,630, while top earners can make $76,280. Sous chefs working in the recreation industry, such as resorts or cruise ships, and those working in establishments offering special food services, are among the highest paid in this profession.
In some cases, sous chefs might be paid a salaried wage and enjoy health and 401K benefits; these employees usually work in the recreation/entertainment industry, such as for cruise lines or vacation resorts.
According to occupational outlook figures provided by the BLS, the employment growth rate for sous chefs is expected to be 10 percent through 2026. There are currently just under 150,000 individuals employed in this field.
Sous Chef Resources
If you’re interested in this exciting career choice, you can learn more by reviewing the resources we’ve provided below. You’ll find links to professional associations, blogs, and more that give detailed information about being a sous chef:
United States Chef Association (USCA) – The USCA can “rapidly advance” your career through educational and certification opportunities. Achieve certification as an executive sous chef with this organization’s online program.
Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line – Chef Michael Gibney takes readers through the real-life, harrowing day of a sous chef. Get all the often-hilarious and sometimes tense details of the journey of getting a dish from the kitchen to the customer’s table in a book TIME magazine hailed as “one of the 10 best nonfiction books of the year” in 2014.
Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant – What better way to learn about a career than to witness it firsthand? Food writer Scott Haas takes readers behind the scenes in this thoroughly-researched book about the life of a chef—from preparing food to delivering culinary satisfaction.
American Culinary Federation (ACF) – Since 1929, ACF has been providing educational, certification, and other career support benefits to sous chefs and others in the profession. Get news on industry trends and techniques, attend conventions and trade shows, network with other chefs and more.
Anatomy of a Chef podcast – Sous chef David Gross talks about his personal path to this career and discusses all things sous chef, such as menu planning and cooking strategies.
So, You Want to be a Chef?: How to Get Started in the World of Culinary Arts (Be What You Want) – Author J.M. Bedell recounts real-life stories of actual sous chefs, head chefs, and others in the culinary field as they explore what it takes to become and work as a chef. Includes professional tips, insights, cooking vocabulary, and recipes.
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