What Is a Sous Chef?

Understanding the importance of the sous chef role in the kitchen

A sous chef plays an important role in the formal hierarchy of a kitchen team, acting as the executive chefs second-in-command, supervising cooks and overseeing day-to-day operations. The sous chef must be versatile, creative and possess a mastery of the culinary arts.

Here, we dive into the qualifications, work environment, and responsibilities of a sous chef. 

What Does a Sous Chef Do?

What is a sous chef? The sous chef works directly under the chef de cuisine or head chef. In French, sous chef means under-chief.” The sous chef's responsibilities include:

  • Supervision: The sous chef must efficiently delegate tasks to the rest of the kitchen team, oversee each station and ensure each dish meets the chef’s standards. Cooks often bring their dishes to the sous chef before sending them out for service.
  • Cooking: In addition to managing other cooks, a sous chef may be responsible for preparing dishes themselves. They need to be familiar with each station in the kitchen, as they may need to step in whenever another staff member is absent.
  • Menu and recipe development: A sous chef may assist a head chef with creating, testing and refining new recipes.
  • Safety: They may ensure that the kitchen meets all health department regulations and follows food safety guidelines.
  • Scheduling: Some sous chefs create work schedules for the rest of the kitchen staff, either on their own or in consultation with the executive chef. They also may manage staff payroll.
  • Training: The sous chef may be responsible for onboarding new staff members.

"A sous chef may step into the chef de cuisine role if they are not present," says Barry Tonkinson, ICE's Vice President of Culinary Operations. "It is imperative that the sous chef is well-versed in all aspects of the menu and all stations in the kitchen, tasting all aspects of the food being sent for service and provide advice, training and critique when necessary. At ICE, chef-instructors focus on punctuality and quality control and in particular, consistency. Students are taught skills across all stations in the kitchen and culminate with developing their own dishes using all of the skills they have acquired."

Alumni Sous Chef: Michael Kerner >

What Soft Skills Does a Sous Chef Need?

In addition to a well-rounded set of cooking skills, a sous chef needs to possess soft skills to help them succeed in the leadership role. These can include:

  • Adaptability: A sous chef has varied responsibilities, so each day may be different. The sous chef needs to be flexible based on the demands of the kitchen.
  • Good judgment: A sous chef must exercise sound judgment and be able to make snap decisions, especially when the head chef isn’t available. When anything goes wrong in the kitchen, the sous chef typically steps in to resolve the problem so the head chef doesn’t have to deal with it.
  • Positive attitude: The sous chef must motivate the other members of the kitchen team and maintain staff morale, even on stressful or challenging days.
  • Communication skills: A sous chef should be able to give clear directions and feedback to the other cooks — essentially, they need to be good teachers. They must be able to take a chef’s menu and recipes and break them down into step-by-step instructions for the cooks.

Sous chefs juggle many demands at once, so they must be organized and detail-oriented, as well. However, they also have the opportunity to learn a great deal about leadership, menu development, and the business side of a restaurant from working closely with a master chef. Some sous chefs develop a mentor/mentee relationship with the chef de cuisine.

Alumni Sous Chef: Sam Guber >

Prepare To Work as a Culinary Professional

Becoming a sous chef is a mark of distinction that can take years of experience to achieve. Recent graduates from culinary school must first master the different stations in the kitchen (working as a line cook or in a similar role) before being considered for a sous chef position. Then, building up work experience as a sous chef may be a stepping stone to a more senior role, such as a head chef.

At Institute of Culinary Education, students can receive a thorough culinary arts education from talented and passionate chef-instructors. ICE has campuses in New York City and Los Angeles, two major culinary hotspots, as well as an online diploma for students in select states across the country.

Alumni Sous Chef: Saul Silva >

Our Culinary Arts diploma program is offered in both New York and Los Angeles. For students who cant attend classes on campus, we offer an online Culinary Arts & Food Operations diploma program that can be completed in 16 months. For students who want to take their education a step further, we offer the option to earn an associate degree in 14 months with ICE's Culinary Arts & Management program at our LA campus.

For more details on our culinary school career programs, request info or apply online today.

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