For culinary professionals and those with a passion for preparing beautiful edibles, becoming a sous chef is a major accomplishment in its own right and a giant leap forward in the world of professional cooking. Second only to executive chefs in formal kitchens, these chefs perform many of the same tasks as their bosses when it comes to preparing meals and delegating responsibilities. Becoming a chef takes time; many sous chefs spend five years or more learning to hone their craft and working their way up the ladder in professional kitchens. Read on to learn more about what sous chefs do on a day-to-day basis.
Professional kitchens operate on a multi-tiered level of line cooks, prep chefs, sous chefs and other cooking professionals who all have tasks that they need to perform in order to keep the kitchen running. Sous chefs spend most of their time administrating, but they can prepare food and expedite to ensure swift and excellent service. The term “expedite” refers to the task of ensuring that all food that leaves the kitchen is cooked and presented appropriately. Sous chefs may handle this task directly, but usually an expeditor is assigned to perform this task. When it comes to actual cooking, sous chefs may not actually prepare meals because they’re too busy ensuring a smooth operation; however, busier kitchens could require sous chefs to step in and cook.
A sous chef’s primary role is to oversee the kitchen in the absence of an executive chef. As second-in-command to the executive chef, sous chefs can perform the same tasks if a head chef needs to be away from the kitchen. Head chefs spend most of their time handling administrative tasks so that sous chefs actually run the kitchen from a practical standpoint. They might delegate tasks, inspect the food, expedite, supervise the cooks and report any problems to the head chef later. Note that some smaller kitchens may require sous chefs to take on several tasks at once while larger kitchens may require several sous chefs to handle a larger volume of work.
Leading by Example
Sous chefs have the authority to command a kitchen based on their experience and familiarity with the environment. Like any organization, professional kitchens work on a system of respected management. If a sous chef isn’t confident in her role, then the kitchen may suffer from mismanagement. On the flip side, successful sous chefs know how to delegate appropriately to ensure that everything runs on schedule. Executive or head chefs must manage the business end of the restaurant, but sous chefs remain in the kitchen to oversee things on a practical basis. Because of this, many kitchens operate with sous chefs in the lead.
Becoming a qualified chef takes time. Many professional chef jobs do not require educational training, but you’ll spend more years working your way into a position of prominence if you lack the basic techniques taught in most culinary programs. Taking professional cooking classes and investing in a culinary or even a hospitality degree will help propel you forward if you plan to become an executive chef one day. In the meantime, training and practicing to become a sous chef can be a great way to prepare for the role of executive chef and manager of your own professional kitchen.