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What Is a Sous Chef?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A sous chef is the second in command in a kitchen. In French, the term literally means “under chef,” and this individual is an important part of the restaurant he or she works in, ensuring that everything runs smoothly whether or not the head chef is present. The duties of the job can vary widely, depending on the restaurant and its command structure. This position in the culinary world can be extremely demanding, especially since it carries none of the glamor associated with being a head or executive chef.

In order to become a sous chef, a person must typically undergo professional training. Some people choose to attend a culinary school, while others prefer to learn on the ground by working their way up the restaurant food chain. Some restaurants prefer individuals who have worked their way up in the ranks, since they are sometimes more familiar with all of the tasks that need to be performed in a busy kitchen.

For those with a passion for cooking and considering a culinary career, identifying whether you're best suited for a role like a sous chef can be pivotal. Taking the best career test can help in understanding your strengths and whether they align with the demanding, multifaceted responsibilities of a sous chef. These tests can provide insights into your ability to handle the pressures of a busy kitchen, manage a team, and maintain the high standards set by the executive chef, all of which are key components of the sous chef's role.

For some people, being a sous chef is the pinnacle of employment. The job is challenging, but extremely rewarding when a kitchen runs smoothly and pleasantly. This person is on the ground in the kitchen every day, keeping track of a wide range of issues and working to ensure the the food in the restaurant is of the highest quality. For these individuals, the celebrity factor of becoming an executive chef is not of interest. Others view the position as the last step that needs to be taken before becoming an executive chef; these individuals may enjoy the social cachet of being a chef, along with the ability to control their own menus and have ultimate authority over the kitchen.

Sous chefs certainly do some cooking, but the job is about much more than just preparing food. They supervise food preparation and safety all over the kitchen, keeping an eye on the staff and ensuring that the dishes stay true to the vision of the executive chef. In some kitchens, this person may be invited to submit recipes or dishes for consideration by the head chef.

These restaurant professionals also deal with the day-to-day issues in the restaurant. They may handle staff conflicts, payroll, proper storage of supplies, and other tasks as directed by the executive chef. Depending on the establishment, they are able to hire and fire staff and to undertake other autonomous decisions to keep the restaurant in good working order.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon327268 — On Mar 27, 2013

Where I work the sous chef is very arrogant, mouthy and full of it. The junior sous is a lovely guy and the head chef is a nice, calm guy.

By anon308345 — On Dec 10, 2012

The sous chef often does the hard work and is humble and overlooked and not respected.

By Belted — On Nov 10, 2012

I studied with a french sous chef for a few months and he taught me how delicate and magical a good sauce can be. The uninitiated often think of a sauce as something bright in color, thick in texture and bold in flavor. But it is often those bold flavors that are trying to mask a lack of subtlety and sophistication.

A good sous chef can produce a product that is so complex and luscious on the palate it will make you feel like you are eating clouds. That is the true potential of a sauce.

By backdraft — On Nov 10, 2012

What kind of education do I need to pursue a sous chef career? Is it possible to get a job like this without attending culinary school? If I wanted to study something besides culinary arts, what would best prepare me to be a sous chef?

By anon287602 — On Aug 26, 2012

In some places, the sous chef is full of it and the cooks know way more than the sous. I know this firsthand, all too well. Oh, the shame.

By FrameMaker — On Aug 01, 2010

@ Istria- For a career that does not require a college degree, a sous chef can make a decent living. Indeed.com listed the average sous chef salary at $48,000. That is about in-line with what I have noticed in the restaurant industry. A sous chef at a decent restaurant can expect a salary that ranges between $850 to $950 a week before deductions (this is true for Northeast ski towns, but I am sure the salary would be higher for places with a higher cost of living).

Sometimes the salary is a little lower, and the owner will substitute a new car for part of the salary. The car acts as an incentive to retain the sous chef. It can be a win-win for both sides; the sous chef can take advantage of low interest fiancing and the restaurant owner’s group policy rate, while the owner can secure an employee for four to five years at no extra cost. The sous chef will own the car outright once the financing period is up, only having to pay insurance.

By istria — On Aug 01, 2010

@ Amphibious54- The executive chef of a restaurant is always busy, and the sous chef is often the key person that helps the executive chef keep his or her sanity. Because the executive chef relies on the sous chef so much, the sous chef also has a very busy and stressful job.

The sous chef often takes the brunt of the verbal punishment from an eclectic, and often extrovert, executive chef. To become an executive chef you must be the center of the universe, whereas the sous chef often has to become the executive chef’s alter ego. Because of the stress, a sous chef’s wages are often very good.

By Amphibious54 — On Aug 01, 2010

The sous chef has a very important role in the operation of a restaurant. In many instance the Sous chef is the liaison between the staff and the executive chef. The sous chef is often the person who trains the other staff on how to prepare the items on the menu. The Executive chef will often help with these duties, but the sous chef will teach the intricacies and nuances that the executive chef expects the cook to know.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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