A Sous Chef is second in command to the Head Chef in a kitchen; he is responsible for food production and assumes the role of Head Chef in the chef's absence.
The role of Sous Chef is very important in a busy kitchen as it is his job to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of food preparation. A Sous Chef doesn't have the financial responsibility of the Head Chef whose job is more business orientated. Instead, the Sous Chef takes care of the working practicalities, ensuring food is served to the highest standards. A busy, successful kitchen is a stressful place to work and by no means calm and peaceful. However, it is an exciting environment, filled with workers who are employed for their passion about food and all chefs look to the Sous Chef for instruction.
Once almost exclusively the domain of male workers, the modern restaurant kitchen is increasingly populated by both male and female workers. Although the knock-on effect of years of male domination has resulted in the fact that it is mainly men who fill the upper roles of Sous and Head Chef, female Sous Chef's are becoming increasingly common.
As someone in the second highest position in the kitchen, a Sous Chef can expect a generous remuneration. A high salary reflects the experience and level of responsibility attached to the role. The wage ranges from between £16,000 to £36,000 per annum for a Sous Chef, dependant on experience and employer. Depending on the employer, additional benefits such as a company car, health cover, fitness schemes and pension schemes may bulk out a Sous Chef's salary package.
- A Junior Sous Chef can expect to earn between £16,000 - £24,000 per annum
- A middleweight Sous Chef is looking at a salary of £24,000 - £28,000 per annum.
- A senior Sous Chef with a lot of experience behind him can expect to earn around £28,000 to £36,000 per annum.
Moving up from Sous Chef to Head, Executive or Development Chef, salaries start at around £40,000 per annum.
- Management. A Sous Chef is a management position responsible for the smooth running of the kitchen. He will make daily decisions on which areas of work his staff will work on and oversee both their working methods and the end product (food) created.
- Staff training will be a major part of his role as he will introduce chefs to new techniques and working methods in order to create the dishes that he or the Head Chef may have designed or decided upon.
- Quality Control is ensured as each dish that goes out does so under the Sous Chef's scrutiny and he may add finishing touches before they leave the kitchen.
- Menu Design is usually taken care of by the Head Chef but the Sous Chef will likely have a large input here also.
- Stock Ordering must be done daily and the Sous Chef must have a handle on exactly how much produce is needed versus how much he has.
Becoming a Sous Chef is a matter of experience. However, it is standard practice for chefs to have a GNVQ level 1 & 2 in Food Preparation at Commis Chef level. Often these qualifications can be take on day release as part of ongoing paid employment.
A Sous Chef is expected to be completely versed in the techniques regarding the preparation of food. There must be no gaps in his learning as it is his job to pass any specific skills onto the chefs in his team. Leadership abilities are a must as the Sous Chef is the first person kitchen staff look to in times of stress or difficulty, which in a busy kitchen may crop up several times in a single shift! A Sous Chef must be a strong communicator and able to keep a clear head under duress. An organised mind regarding book-keep and accounting is also necessary as he will probably be in charge of stock ordering.
- A busy restaurant kitchen is a hot, stressful and extremely fast paced environment. The rigours of hectic service times and the fact that a chef remains on his feet for the entire time make this a physically demanding job. Nevertheless, those with a passion for cooking and a love of challenge find cheffing an extremely rewarding experience. Tempers can rise with the heat and a fair amount of verbal banter, that would be completely unacceptable in most office environments, is the norm in a kitchen. Famous TV chefs do well to represent the hidden world of profanity behind those service doors. Any vitriol is purely results orientated, however, and working as part of a team through challenging circumstances has a great feel to it.
- Depending on the type of restaurant, hours can be long and anti-social. Restaurants do not generally operate on a nine to five basis and therefore neither do chefs. Split shifts (where the working day is divided into two portions with a break in between) are common, as are long shifts. Chefs need to arrive in the kitchen before the restaurant opens for service, in order to prepare food. Likewise chefs may need to stay once the rush of service has ended, in order to prepare essential culinary components in advance for the next day. Given that a Sous Chef is essentially the manager of the kitchen personnel he will need to work the same hours as his staff.
- Almost all cooking work takes place within the kitchen environment. The exception may be outdoors barbecuing or the increasingly popular pig spit roast which is performed outdoors on special equipment. The adage - if you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen rings true for all but the pantry chefs. A kitchen is a hot environment to work in, with the exception of large walk-in fridges used to keep perishable produce fresh. A Sous Chef will have the responsibility for ordering and for this he will make use of a small office area where he will take care of some basic book keeping or possibly use database and word processing software on a PC.
- A busy working kitchen contains many hazards, so for this reason precise safety standards must be adhered to. Searing hot hobs and ovens, sharp knives and heavy pans can be hazardous when mixed with slippery spillages and scores of kitchen staff working at full tilt during a hectic service. It is the Sous Chef's job to ensure a kitchen operates safely and efficiently.
- A kitchen operates with its own specialist set of machinery and tools. Chefs are trained in the use of knives for a variety of purposes ranging from taking the bones out of meat (boning) to peeling delicate vegetables (paring). Each pan and tray is designed with a specific use or set of uses in mind and a variety of cooking techniques are accessible through different types of oven, fryers and grills.
A Sous Chef needs to have at least 5 years of experience working in a busy, successful kitchen before he can be considered for the role. You cannot go to college and become a Sous Chef. Official qualifications can help you in your career progression but nothing counts as much as real kitchen experience.
Major Employers of Sous Chefs are too numerous to mention. Every large restaurant has one and there are literally thousands in the UK alone. Another major employer of Sous Chef's are the hotel chains. Marriot, Hilton and the Four Seasons group are among the employers offering the highest salaries for Sous Chefs at the top of their profession.
A Sous Chef will have typically served his time as a Commis Chef and from there worked up to a Chef de Partie. Having spent some years in charge of one section of the kitchen in this role he must have some experience in all parts of the kitchen. A time-served Chef de Partie may be considered for the role of Sous Chef.
A senior Sous Chef can move into the role of a Head Chef, where he will take on much more responsibility for the business side of running a kitchen. A Sous Chef may also opt to be a Development Chef where it is his job to transform an existing restaurant by building new menus and culinary experiences, working alongside the concepts provided by his new employer.
Jamie Reybould, Sous Chef in a busy West London pub is 28 years old and has been in the industry for 15 years!
We speak to Jamie about his career aspirations and the ups and downs of being a Sous Chef.
Jamie, tell us how you started out in cheffing and what got you to where you are today.
I started out washing dishes in my local pub, The Three Horseshoes in Powerstock, Dorset. I stayed there for five years washing up. Three of those were spent doing vegetable preparation which led me to do my apprenticeship in catering there too! To further my career I went to East Sussex, to the Griffin Inn in Fletching, where I went from Commis Chef to Sous Chef in four years. I stayed there for a total of five years. From there I went to London where I continued to work in busy Gastro Pub Kitchens as a Sous Chef.
What is a typical day at work like for a Sous Chef?
I'm in the kitchen by 8am handling food deliveries, preparing menus and deciding on the daily specials. Service starts around 12 and that's the fun part, working as a team and keeping your head above water. When things calm down I usually delegate prep for the next shift to the other chefs and check on my stock.
What are your likes and dislikes about your job as a Sous Chef?
I have a passion for my job and it's interesting. I'm always learning. I dislike having a bad day in the kitchen and I hate when things start to run out of control and people get stressed.
What single piece of advice could you give to anyone thinking about becoming a Sous Chef?
Advice? Got to be passionate or go home. One more thing - mind those fingers!
Where do you see yourself next?
Designing Kitchens. I love the creativity of food but the creativity of what helps you create that food is even more interesting.
What is your current salary?
I currently earn £28,000