Sous Chef Job Description - Skills, Responsibilities and Career
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What Does a Sous Chef Do?
As the second in command in a restaurant kitchen, the sous chef supervises the work of his or her colleagues and reports to the head chef (also known as the executive chef or chef de cuisine).
The sous chef manages the chefs de partie (i.e. the sauce chef, fish chef, grill chef, garde manger and pastry chef), the commis chefs and the rest of the kitchen staff, including the dishwashers. Where needed, the sous chef may deputise for the head chef or for a chef de partie and therefore needs to be able to carry out all of their tasks in order to ensure that the kitchen can carry on functioning as normal in their absence.
As the second in command in the kitchen brigade, the sous chef works in close collaboration with the chef. Following the instructions of the head chef, the sous chef supervises the work of the chefs de partie, kitchen assistants and the other members of the kitchen crew, assigns work and shifts, coordinates food production schedules, oversees all line operations and ensures that all essential equipment and utensils are in good working order. The sous chef (in collaboration with the head waiter and the sommelier) also helps the head chef to design the menu, in keeping with the style and philosophy of the restaurant.
Sous chefs are also responsible for making improvements to existing dishes and for proposing new ones, using their flair and creativity to come up with culinary inventions that not only taste great but also look good.
Sous chefs are proficient in every aspect of the daily running of a kitchen, from prepping and cooking through to plating and garnishing, and are able to prepare starters, main courses and desserts. They take an active role in food preparation and assist other chefs with their work, particularly during peak service hours.
Sous chefs aim to ensure that all of the dishes leaving the kitchen are impeccably prepared and served and strive to achieve the highest level of food quality, taste and presentation.
Another important responsibility of the sous chef is inventory management, which involves selecting suppliers, ordering raw materials and managing food stocks held in the larder and cold room. Sous chefs train personnel on the proper handling and storage of unused food with the aim of reducing food waste to a minimum and controlling food costs.
In addition to overseeing and coordinating kitchen operations, the sous chef is also responsible for ensuring that the kitchen brigade complies with all restaurant standards (e.g. wearing uniforms, food service procedures etc.) and that all applicable food hygiene regulations are adhered to.
Sous chefs are also in charge of training up junior kitchen personnel and in some cases may be involved in the selection of new staff.
Finally, sous chefs are responsible for monitoring team performance, food quality and food production. They strive to create a culture of continuous improvement, maintain effective communication within the kitchen and with the head of the waiting team and work to resolve any organizational or operational issues that may arise.
The working hours of a sous chef follow the hours of their place of work. Typically they work a full time, six-day week, with their hours split between lunch and dinner services. Shifts may also include holidays and weekends. Working as a sous chef is a tiring job, involving standing for long periods of time in a hot, humid environment.
Sous chefs typically work in the kitchens of restaurants, hotels and cruise ships. These are usually medium to high end establishments with large, formal kitchen set-ups, whose size and the volumes catered for are such that the head chef requires support. Sous chefs are also employed by companies specializing in banqueting services to look after buffets and catering at events.
Duties and Responsibilities
The duties of a sous chef include:
- Assisting the chef with the day-to-day running of the kitchen
- Designing menus together with the head chef
- Preparing, cooking and presenting food in accordance with restaurant standards
- Supervising the work of the kitchen brigade
- Ensuring dishes are prepared and presented in accordance with recipes
- Deputising for the head chef where absent
- Ordering food provisions, performing stock control and overseeing inventory management
- Ensuring that all kitchen operations are in compliance with food hygiene (HACCP) and safety regulations
- Organizing kitchen staff work shifts
- Coordinating staff training and development
- Managing and resolving any issues that may arise quickly and efficiently
How to Become Sous Chef - Education and Training
Although the educational requirements to become a sous chef typically involve some form of qualification or diploma in catering and hospitality, what really counts is prior experience in a medium to high level professional kitchen.
Previous experience as a cook or station chef in a formal restaurant environment, delivering high standards of service, will have furnished aspiring sous chefs with the skills they need to thrive in the role and work successfully with the executive or head chef on the various aspects of kitchen operation (including menu design, recipe creation, staff organization, stock control, personnel training and food hygiene compliance), while ensuring.that all dishes leaving the kitchen not only meet the required quality, taste and presentation standards, but also satisfy and indeed exceed customer expectations.
Sous Chef Skills
The skills of a sous chef include:
- Kitchen management skills and efficient use of time and resources
- Food preparation, cooking and plating skills
- Creative use of ingredients and recipe design
- Ability to cover all work lines, as needed
- Leadership and decision-making skills
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Rapid problem identification and resolution
- Ability to work under pressure
- Ability to work as part of a team
Sous Chef Career Path
The career path to becoming a sous chef may well begin with a job in a restaurant or hotel kitchen as a kitchen porter, kitchen assistant or commis chef - the lowest positions in a kitchen brigade.
In larger restaurants with formal kitchen set-ups, talented, dedicated individuals should subsequently have the opportunity to progress to the role of cook and then chef de partie. From here, the next step up is the role of sous chef - although in some cases this may be prefaced by a period as a junior sous chef.
Finally, after some years in the role as sous chef - and then perhaps as executive or senior sous chef - those who have what it takes may find themselves at the top of the kitchen tree, as chef de cuisine, head chef or executive chef (the exact title will vary from restaurant to restaurant).
Top Reasons to Work as a Sous Chef
The role of sous chef is a vital one within a kitchen brigade and comes with a great deal of responsibility. The challenge of delivering a high quality culinary experience to diners on a daily basis is enough to test even the most talented workers. The remit of a sous chef is wide-ranging, including cooking, menu design, kitchen management and organization, and providing leadership and motivation to junior staff.
While the role is undoubtedly a challenging one, it is also financially well rewarded, with salaries reflecting not only the responsibilities a sous chef assumes, but also their ability and level of experience.
Additional advantages include the wide range of career possibilities enjoyed by a sous chef, both at home and abroad. The world of professional cooking may be highly competitive, but it offers passionate talented individuals the chance to make a living working in the world’s most luxurious and top rated dining establishments.