Every hero needs a good sidekick to occasionally step in and save the day. Batman has Robin. Ferris Bueller has Cameron Frye. Maverick has Goose.
A kitchen isn't any different from a 1980s movie in the sense that its hero (the executive chef) needs a good sidekick. In this case, the sidekick is the sous chef.
Read on for a full sous chef job description. We'll cover the duties and responsibilities of a sous chef and show how they play a vital role in kitchen and restaurant operations.
What Is a Sous Chef?
A sous chef is the top assistant to the head chef in a professional kitchen. They provide support to the head chef in a restaurant or hotel kitchen.
The sous chef participates in menu planning, overseeing inventory, and managing kitchen staff. A good sous chef provides support to the executive chef and takes charge when needed.
Restaurant and hotel kitchens are arranged so the absence of the executive or head chef won't affect the dining room. A sous chef maintains the level of food quality and service when the executive chef is absent from the kitchen.
Sous Chef Job Description
Duties include monitoring supplies and ensuring that the kitchen staff is following safety and sanitation standards. They participate in meetings alongside the executive chef in larger restaurants and hotels. A sous chef will also interact with the restaurant manager, food and beverage manager, and other management staff.
The position is the assistant to the executive or head chef and is second-in-command in the daily operation of the kitchen. It is an opportunity waiting to happen, as many executive chefs change locations, creating job openings for sous chefs to fill.
Sous Chef Main Responsibilities
Precise responsibilities vary according to the size of the restaurant or hotel. Daily responsibilities may include the following:
- Working with the executive chef to define menu concepts and present high-quality dishes.
- Supervising other types of chefs, especially when the executive chef is not present in the kitchen.
- Participating in planning the menus for parties and special occasions in restaurants and hotels.
- Maintaining a safe and sanitary environment among the kitchen staff.
Working with the Executive Chef
They perform some of the usual duties of the executive chef when they are on vacation. This includes placing food and supply orders and meeting with vendors. They also create the staff schedule and train any new employees.
The sous chef checks with the restaurant manager to ensure smooth restaurant operations during busy times. The sous chef might work with the executive chef and restaurant manager to come up with restaurant improvement ideas.
The sous chef has additional responsibilities when the executive chef is busy. This includes dealing with any issues or questions that arise from customers or staff.
The mentor/apprentice relationship between the top chefs and their assistants adds value to the position. Famous culinary chefs rose to their position of recognition by working under chefs who taught them everything they know.
Many kitchens keep long daily hours of operation, including weekends and holidays. Restaurants, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, and other hospitality outlets offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This means a lot of hours for menu planning, recipe costing, food preparation, cooking, and serving the dishes.
In many kitchens, they work opposite hours of the executive or head chef. This provides coverage when the top chef is on vacation or in meetings.
Promotion and Success
Many of the chefs who own business empires of restaurants started as line cooks. They worked hard, learned along the way, and earned a promotion to executive chef. Some chefs, such as Gordon Ramsey, Alain Ducasse, and Wolfgang Puck, have become world-famous for their cooking, television shows, and business ventures.
Marcus Samuelsson arrived in the United States from Sweden with only $300 but began working in restaurants as a teenager. He became sous chef at critically acclaimed Swedish restaurant Aquavit in New York City. Nowadays, he is the owner of Red Rooster in New York City and a world-famous chef.
Sous Chef Salary
As of December 2021, the average sous chef salary in the United States is $50,614 per year. Factors that contribute to compensation include:
- Career experience
- Level of education
- Specific job responsibilities
- Type of culinary establishment
- Region of the country
Location, Location, Location
Depending on where you work, salary will vary widely. In Los Angeles, the average yearly pay is $60,738. New York restaurants pay $58,848, and in Chicago, they earn $57,485 annually.
However, in some other locations across the United States, Sous Chefs may earn 25% less than the average salary. Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, and New Mexico are states that pay chefs less money. The more densely populated urban areas in the Northeast and West Coast pay a higher sous chef salary on average.
There is no fixed path to becoming a sous chef. Most people earn at least a high school diploma or equivalent, while many others attend a culinary school. They earn associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, certificates, or diplomas. The key is to learn as much as possible about operational efficiency in restaurants and hotels and acquire skills that help you become a better chef.
Climbing the Kitchen Ladder
Their first job in a professional kitchen is usually as a line cook or chef de partie, working long hours and several years to prove their skills. Then, a promotion is a realistic possibility. Some cooks advance from within their restaurant, while others will look elsewhere for that opportunity.
For culinary students, earning the title is a great achievement. If you are a culinary student who wants to become a sous chef, focus on mastering each station in the kitchen. Employers want to see a proven track record of reliable work and experience before elevating you to an upper management position.
The world’s most respected and wealthy top chefs started as line cooks, learning their trade gradually before climbing the kitchen ladder. It’s normal to think about climbing the kitchen ladder while you’re starting in the kitchen. However, it will take a lot of hard work and long hours to achieve the title of sous chef.