Author: Chef Perry
Ranking beneath the executive chef, the role of sous chef is the second most important in a professional kitchen. “Second in command” of the brigade (the kitchen hierarchy), knowing how to be a good sous chef is important for keeping the whole kitchen running smoothly.
Sous chefs will often have full charge of the kitchen while the chef is away on other business, so it’s a management position of much authority and responsibility. This position is also a key milestone for those who aspire to the Executive Chef role, providing on-the-job-training for the coveted top spot.
Becoming familiar and competent in the wide variety of skills and duties can take years of learning and study, as can the unique mindset and temperament required to run a professional kitchen.
Here are some of the qualities required of an excellent sous chef:
Advanced skills in food preparation and delivery are a must for any position in the kitchen. To be a successful sous chef, however, you must be well versed in all stations and culinary techniques required on the line. This versatility will allow you to jump in anywhere, at any time, to fix a problem or cover a gap.
A degree or certification from an accredited culinary school is a smart move and can provide a solid foundation on which to build your culinary career. While it's not always necessary, it can take your career to the next level from "cook" to "chef".
Entering the workplace with a well-developed understanding of restaurant cooking will prepare you for successful navigation through the line stations. In turn, this firsthand work experience and proficiency in different techniques can lead to added responsibility and pave the road leading to management positions.
Even if you were the sharpest crayon in your culinary classroom, don’t expect to stroll out of cooking school and right into a leadership spot. Chefs and restaurant owners want to see a proven track-record of kitchen skills, management success, and personal reliability before they bequeath these coveted titles, and that means years of long, hot hours climbing the proverbial ladder.
Typically, they promote from within their ranks, allowing them to have a firsthand understanding of your abilities.
While there is no “fast track” to becoming a sous chef, education and culinary chops can undoubtedly grease the wheels of your career path.
Being an excellent sous chef isn’t just about spinning out fancy dishes, though. In this position, you’ll need to understand staffing and scheduling, as well as ordering, stocking, and management of inventory.
It often falls to the sous to observe and maintain standards of cleanliness and order in all parts of the kitchen as well, and to fill in on the line for no-shows, sick calls, or injuries, at the same time.
It takes impressive organizational skills, and the ability to maintain an awareness of all areas of the service, regardless of whatever fires burn (literal or figurative) at any given moment, to keep all of the moving parts of a successful kitchen running smoothly.
Other areas of responsibility can include:
The sous chef’s roll in its simplest definition is to maintain the flow and quality, from tickets coming in, to orders going out… no matter what. This “failure is not an option” mentality is one that all great chefs and sous-chefs share.
It often falls to the sous to set the tone of the kitchen. Regardless of how far in the weeds, or what unexpected “challenge” comes up. To be a good sous chef, you must model an air of confidence and control for the rest of the staff to emulate.
Despite what television executives might like us to think, screaming, shouting, and abusing equipment (or staff), do more harm than good in the professional kitchen. The ability to be heard and understood, while maintaining a healthy, harmonious work environment is a crucial skill for a sous chef.
Ask most executive chefs what they look for above all else in a sous chef and the majority will tell you that they must have someone they can count on.
The chef needs to know that when they're not personally maintaining the kitchen, their right-hand can be trusted to maintain the standards and qualities that the chef has worked long and hard to establish.
A capable, loyal, and trustworthy sous chef is a gift that few chefs take lightly.
Being a great sous doesn’t require diplomas from fancy culinary schools, but it does require that you know how to cook, how to perform in a professional kitchen, and that you respect and take care of your crew.
Check your ego at the door and be someone that you’d want to work with!
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