Culinary Careers: The Sous Chef

A sous chef is a teacher, manager, problem-solver and culinary expert all wrapped up into one.

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September 2, 2015 3 min read
The sous chef is in charge of the kitchen, and can be needed to take on many different tasks.

The sous chef is in charge of the kitchen, and can be needed to take on many different tasks.

A sous chef is a teacher, manager, problem-solver and culinary expert all wrapped up into one. They’re the second in command, reporting up to the head chef. However, since the head chef has many tasks to attend to outside of the kitchen, the sous chef is in charge of the kitchen moment to moment. Students finishing up culinary classes in Boulder, Colorado, may one day ascend the ranks of a restaurant and take on this role, but to do so, they will have to hone their culinary knowledge and gain experience in the work environment.

How to become a sous chef
Generally speaking, a sous chef works his or her way up through the different roles in a kitchen. Starting at the bottom and moving up the ranks gives him or her a thorough understanding of how the kitchen functions. This knowledge is vital to being an effective sous chef. Culinary knowledge is not enough: You need to be able to have a strong grasp of all the moving parts to make the best food for diners.

The job
A sous chef’s job is varied and basically comes down to what’s needed in the kitchen. Generally speaking, however, a sous chef plans and directs food preparation. Whether this means teaching another chef how to make a certain dish or figuring how much wine needs to be ordered, a sous chef should be able to handle the task. Sous chefs also often have a hand in designing menus and coming up with new dishes to wow guests. Sous chefs also need to have a strong personality that can maintain order, because it’s their job to keep the entire kitchen staff on task.

Salaries for sous chefs can fall into a fairly wide range. Because culinary salaries depend heavily on the restaurant, there is no typical sous chef salary.

To succeed as a sous chef, you must have the following skills:

  • Excellent communication.
  • Strong culinary knowledge.
  • Ability to manage others.
  • Time management skills.
  • Sense of financial management.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Willingness to teach.

The role of the sous chef can be considered on-the-job training for becoming a head or executive chef. Most famous chefs worked as a sous chef at some point in their career, and this position is considered the traditional stepping stone towards more difficult roles later on.

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