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A skilled sous chef is an anchor of calm in a restaurant kitchen, both on and off the line.

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What Is a Sous Chef?

In a professional kitchen, the sous chef is second in command to the executive chef or chef de cuisine. In French, the “sous” refers to “under,” as in someone working directly under the head chef. The sous chef position is part of the kitchen brigade system, a hierarchical system of organizing kitchen staff by specific station and responsibility, introduced by legendary French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier.

What Is the Role of a Sous Chef?

The sous chef fulfills a few critical roles in the kitchen. They run the kitchen when the head chef is not present, ensure execution of the menu, from planning to food preparation, and manage kitchen staff, including chefs de partie (station chefs) and line cooks.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Sous Chef?

Sous chefs are typically promoted from within a kitchen’s ranks or hired based on specific qualifications, like years of work experience. While culinary school is not a requirement for the position, the skills and cooking methods learned while earning culinary arts degrees can offer an advantage when entering a food service job.

  1. Ability to lead: As the lead representative of the executive chef’s vision, a sous chef must command the respect of their fellow cooks. To do so, they must be confident, calm, and able to keep the rest of the staff on track by managing attitudes, teaching, and uplifting.
  2. Good communication: The sous chef operates as an intermediary between the cooks and the head chef. They can also advocate for the kitchen to restaurant management or between different kitchen or front-of-house departments (for example, a pastry chef or sommelier). Good, clear communication skills are crucial skills in either scenario.
  3. Strong organizational skills: Tracking kitchen inventory and noting potential future needs also falls under the sous chef’s purview, so having exceptional organization skills is a priority for this position. Sous chefs must also order ingredients for service, resolve problems quickly when situations change, and ensure the kitchen meets sanitation requirements.
  4. Culinary knowledge: Like a roundsman (also known as a swing cook or tournant), a sous chef must be capable of jumping on any station at any given point during service, filling in wherever necessary. They must have a working knowledge of all equipment and techniques and be able to execute any portion of the menu as intended by the head chef—or improvise in the same style if a product doesn’t arrive on time.
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