Learn About Being a Sous Chef

By Indeed Editorial Team

December 10, 2019

What does a sous chef do?

A sous chef is the second in command in a kitchen after the executive chef. “Sous chef” in French means “under-chef.” Depending on the size of the kitchen, a sous chef is involved in kitchen and managerial duties, including:

  • Writing and redesigning menus 

  • Properly pricing items on the menu

  • Creating new menu items

  • Hiring aspiring chefs and training staff 

  • Scheduling staff shifts 

  • Ensuring kitchen staff members follow rules and regulations

  • Tracking, organizing and ordering inventory

  • Ensuring kitchen equipment complies with industry standards and is repaired or replaced as needed

  • Alternate shifts with the executive chef, with each running the kitchen during their scheduled time 

  • Creating a smooth workflow within the kitchen so that diners receive service promptly 

Average salary

Sous chef salaries can vary widely depending on experience, education, geographical location, and restaurant size. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $46,538 per year

  • Some salaries range from $16,000 to $95,000 per year.

Sous chef requirements

While some restaurants hire only sous chefs who have a four-year degree, others will also take those who have experience. Here are some requirements for obtaining a position as sous chef:

Education

A college degree is not mandatory for a sous chef, but you should have a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate. Having a degree in culinary arts can increase your chances of being hired by a top employer and increase the likelihood of promotion.

You can obtain a two-year associate degree or four-year bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from many colleges, universities and professional institutions. With an associate degree, you will learn how to prepare classic dishes. You will also learn about ingredients, kitchen techniques and wine as well as hygiene, sanitation, food purchasing, food safety and nutrition. 

A bachelor’s degree allows aspiring chefs to specialize further by focusing on specific aspects of the food business such as farm-to-table or hospitality management. Master’s programs might also teach management skills and geographical specialties, such as Mediterranean cooking. 

Training

Much of a sous chef’s training occurs on the job. Almost all sous chefs work their way up to their position from an entry-level job like a dishwasher or line cook.

Sous chefs who have degrees in the culinary arts typically also have worked in test kitchens, partner hotels and other institutions. Almost all degrees require a certain amount of on-the-job training.

Some culinary schools offer opportunities for interning abroad, where students can opt to cook for cruise ships, corporations, fast food chains, pastry companies and grocery stores. You can also obtain an apprenticeship through an organization like the American Culinary Federation. 

Certifications

While there are no certifications required to be a sous chef, earning some might help you be hired and/or promoted. Here are two you can consider:

ServSafe food manager course:

This certificate, available from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, will show that you have been trained in the basics of food handling and safety. You can take the course online, or find an instructor on servsafe.com to teach you the course material. You will have to take and pass an exam at the end to receive the certificate. The certificate must usually be renewed after five years, but that number varies according to jurisdiction. 

Certified Sous Chef

If you have a high school diploma or a GED or five years of entry-level culinary experience (for an entry-level chef; those with degrees need fewer years), you can obtain a Certified Sous Chef designation through the American Culinary Federation. You will need to complete three 30-hour courses, pass written and practical exams and renew the certificate every five years.

Other certification programs

Many culinary schools such as the Culinary Institute of America also offer certification programs for students who have already received a degree. You can immerse yourself in a deeper study of specialties, like plant and protein-based diets or food and wine pairing. Visit their websites for more information, as each one requires different prerequisites, exams and renewal periods.

Skills

Becoming a sous chef and succeeding at the job requires several soft and hard skills, such as:

Time management

A sous chef is responsible for quickly preparing and delivering food to guests. They must accurately predict how much time should be allocated to each aspect of food preparation, service and cleanup.

Communication

A sous chef must communicate with kitchen staff, wait staff, hosts and bartenders. They also will interact with vendors and suppliers, and sometimes with diners. They need the skills to adjust their communication style for each type.

Teamwork and leadership

A sous chef must be an effective leader who can join many people into a seamless team working for the same goal: an excellent dining experience for a guest. A sous chef should also be able to partner well with their executive chef and other management personnel.

Creativity

Because the sous chef often designs new menus and creates dishes and recipes, they should be receptive to new ideas and innovative.

Technical abilities

Although a sous chef may not personally operate every piece of equipment in a kitchen, they are responsible for the overall care and maintenance of the piece and safety standards associated with them. 

Flexibility

Chefs need to be flexible and innovative to meet sudden requests, such as a last-minute cancellation, or a large group of diners with previously unannounced food restrictions. A sous chef will have to make quick rearrangements to accommodate any such deviations from the norm. 

Ability to focus under pressure

A sous chef must work tirelessly in a fast-paced environment overseeing a variety of activities and stations. They have to ensure that colleagues prepare food correctly with no injuries to the staff and that the diners are satisfied. 

Physical stamina

A sous chef job requires being on your feet and almost constant motion. It’s important to be in good physical health and be able to stand and walk around quickly for hours at a stretch.

Sous chef work environment

Sous chefs are employed in a variety of settings. Some examples include:

  • Fine award-winning restaurants 

  • Large restaurant chains with national and international operations

  • Hotels with restaurant services and food and beverage departments

  • Gourmet grocery chains that served prepared food

  • Amusement parks and family entertainment destinations that offer several dining destinations

  • Cruise ships

  • Resorts

  • Vineyards 

  • Culinary education institutions

  • Catering companies

Regardless of the setting, a sous chef’s environment will most likely be a busy one with the following characteristics:

  • Long periods of time on your feet and walking around the kitchen

  • Managing multiple employees, interacting with the executive chef and serving customers

  • A variety of tasks, from supervising food preparation in a kitchen to sitting down at an office desk to write menus and research ingredients

  • Hours that might include very early mornings (for breakfast service) and very late nights, plus most weekends

How to become a sous chef

Here are some steps you can take to becoming a sous chef:

1. Obtain an education.

View job listings to see whether a sous chef is required to have a degree, or whether work experience will suffice. If you are in a large city or aiming to work for an upscale restaurant or large hotel chain, a degree might not only help you obtain the position but earn a promotion later. You can enroll in a culinary arts school for an associate or bachelor’s degree, or if you already have experience and a bachelor’s degree in a related field, perhaps specialize with a master’s degree.

2. Earn certifications.

Organizations such as ServSafe and the American Culinary Federation offer short courses that you can complete to obtain a certificate in specific aspects of food preparation and culinary skills.

3. Gain experience. 

In the restaurant industry, experience can be as beneficial as education to your job prospects. Find work in a restaurant, preferably one that you admire, and work your way through the various positions. 

4. Create a resume and practice interview skills.

Submit your resume along with a cover letter, and tailor both to that specific job for which you are applying.

Sous chef job description example

A reputed hotel chain is looking for a dynamic team player to join our team as a sous chef. Must have at least five years of experience as a sous chef or at least 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry. Candidates may also substitute a degree in culinary arts for some on-the-job experience. The sous chef will serve as second-in-command to our executive chef and will be responsible for food safety and handling, as well as training new chefs. 

Related careers

  • Executive chef

  • Line cook

  • Restaurant manager

  • Pastry chef


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