How Do I Become a Sous Chef?

The field of Hospitality and Management is becoming one of the fastest growing industries of the 21st century. More specifically, the food service industry is the top private employer in the nation and one of the most competitive in the marketplace. The restaurant business is looking for ambitious, industry-leading people that are looking to develop their careers. Consequently, sous chefs are among the positions high in demand.
Becoming a sous chef also comes with many opportunities to work up the ladder. A sous chef is, in essence, the executive chef’s right-hand, the manager of a kitchen operation and, as such, they can replace the chef de cuisine or executive chef when necessary. To become a sous chef, one has to of course be a great cook and to also be comfortable with the technical side of cooking such as knife skills or food plating. Not only does a sous chef have to be an excellent cook, they also must have leadership and management skills. In order to manage a team of people, one has to have good people skills to not only lead but also train other cooks. Additionally, an aspiring sous chef should be familiar with all the positions fulfilled by other cooks. Indeed, you should be skilled in all the different aspects of the kitchen–from prepping to making sauces and more–but also at understanding business operations. Lastly, you have to be someone who is not afraid of working hard and long hours, which also implies that you have to be reliable and in good physical health. The sous chef is the indispensable second-in-command, and if you are someone who is methodical, an efficient administrator, and a good manager, this career may be for you.

Job Responsibilities and Future Prospects for Sous-Chefs

Armed with years of experience, a sous chef has extensive knowledge of his craft and prepares dishes under the guidance of the chef.
As the chef’s direct assistant, the sous chef will also participate in the following tasks:

  • menu development
  • selection of suppliers
  • reception of goods
  • staff training
  • in some cases, the hiring process

When replacing the executive chef, the sous chef takes control of managing the entire kitchen. One of the features that greatly differentiates the sous chef from a line cook is that he has to be willing to assume any role needed, from preparing meals to washing dishes, to handling a crisis, whereas the line cook typically operates the same station every day. Not only does a sous chef have to be a leader but they have to also be a team player. Indeed, as the frontline of the kitchen, the sous chef has to have good people skills in order to manage and interact with a team on a daily basis.
Under the supervision of the chef, the sous chef will further develop their leadership skills until they are offered the opportunity to become an executive sous chef, chef, or start their own venture.

Salaries and Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for Sous Chefs, particularly with a Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts, is typically around $44,958 a year. Of course, salaries vary greatly based on years of experience, and the restaurant standing, structure, and location. The BLS also predicts that employment in the field will increase by 9% between 2014 and 2024. As a sous chef, you will have the opportunity to work in diverse areas of the restaurant industry. In larger establishments, sous chefs may work along many other sous chefs under an executive chef, or they may be completely in charge of a specific unit such as the pool bar or the snack bar. Either way, a sous chef has many opportunities to grow within the same restaurant or take his expertise elsewhere for a higher salary.

Using Your Education to Become a Sous Chef

Aspiring sous chefs may choose to go to culinary school and/or choose a targeted degree program that blends basic cooking skills with management education. Although there’s no formal education required, getting an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in the field of Culinary Arts will likely open doors to better job prospects. Additionally, those with some cooking experience may elect to pursue a hospitality management degree at the associate’s or bachelor’s levels. These degrees will give you more of the management, planning, and organizational knowledge needed to move up to the head of the kitchen. You will gain hands-on experience through apprenticeships and a wide variety of networking opportunities. Additionally, you will learn the front- and back-of-the-house management skills necessary to optimize a restaurant’s operation. Another major advantage of opting for a degree in Hospitality Management is the opportunity to participate in paid internships and access to career fairs. Furthermore, larger hotel/restaurant chains often require some level of higher education. With a degree in the field of Hospitality Management, you will gain a robust understanding of the Restaurant and Foodservice sector with a focus on the business and operational side of the industry. More specifically, you will acquire the skills and best practices to get ahead in the culinary business such as food preparation, food safety, restaurant leadership/teamwork strategies, and supply and procurement management, to name a few. Additionally, you will acquire theoretical knowledge and interpersonal skills while gaining invaluable experience.

Posted in FAQ