The ingredients for becoming a sous chef are hard work, dedication, and passion. The recipe for combining those flavors is really just as unique as you.
What is a Sous Chef?
“That’s a position where you find yourself doing probably the most work you’ll ever do in your career because you have to sort of behave a bit like a cook and also behave a little bit like a chef – you’re somewhere in between the two, so you have to do the jobs of both,” chef Michael Gibney said. He is the author of the book Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line. At 16, he began working in a restaurant kitchen as a dishwasher. Just six years later, he had his first job as a sous chef.
Culinary Training Lays the Foundation
From learning cooking principals and methods to mastering how to organize a professional kitchen for maximum efficiency, culinary arts training can be academic, apprenticeships or on-the-job training. The best programs offer all three, creating a well-rounded culinary professional. Advanced programs may offer courses on plating and presentation techniques as well as how to approach designing a menu.
Aside from learning about food, training also includes time management skills; research techniques; and personal skills such as creating a portfolio and accompanying resume.
What Does it Take to Become a Sous Chef?
It should come as no surprise that becoming a sous chef is about more than food. Any sous chef candidate will be responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the restaurant; allowing the executive chef to concentrate on creating a menu or tweaking a current one ever so slightly. Your ability to multi-task goes beyond one hand lighting a burner to sautee while the other hand adds a pinch of salt to another dish.
Communication and leadership skills are also necessary traits for a sous chef. The kitchen is a fast-paced, deadline-driven work environment with multiple things going on at once so being able to give concise orders and still listen to a special dietary order is essential. And because there is so much going on, it is critical you know how to delegate responsibilities to others.
With the executive chef focused on other things, it is also important for the sous chef to understand the business and administrative end of the restaurant business. And you will still be expected to prep food for the dinner rush and pinch in on the line during peak hours; stock the kitchen and make sure everything is clean at the end of the night.
If you want to be on the fast track to sous chef, you’ll need to impress from the beginning. That means working clean and working fast; exceptional sanitation and food preparation safety practices are critical to moving up the heavily competitive ladder in an upscale kitchen.
So What's the Best Way to Climb the Ladder and Become a Sous Chef?
1. Embrace the power of the promotion.
Make sure to embrace one of the menu’s dishes as your signature dish to gain returning diners. It’s the regularly returning customers that can help an executive chef determine the sous chef promotion.
2. Work the line.
Do yourself a favor and make sure you work each position at every station on the line. This way your creations will always be uniquely yours as well as consistent. This is how you build a reputation with diners.
3. Do what others don’t want to do.
Want to get noticed? Offer to do inventory, restock what needs restocking and other tasks no one wants to do. What boss doesn’t like initiative?
4. Never stop learning.
Whether you read a book, take a food vacation or just play with your food, keep yourself and your cooking style relevant and fresh.
5. Show interest.
Don’t forget the kitchen is a great place to learn and not just about food preparation. Spend some time observing how other kitchen personnel interact with each other and the chef. Make a mental note and follow up with the executive chef if you have a question. This shows an eagerness to learn personnel management.
6. Speak up.
If you have an idea of how to improve a productivity issue share it with the executive chef. Do this in private so you don’t blindside the boss. One of the key traits executive chefs look for in a sous chef is loyalty and someone they can undoubtedly trust. Whether intentional or not, there can be a simmering tension between these two positions. Mainly, because the sous chef isn’t a line cook and isn’t quite a chef either.
— Lakisha Lilly (@lakisha_lilly) August 4, 2015
Thinking about a career in the culinary arts with the goal of making sous chef as quickly as possible? Contact the College of College of Culinary Arts at ECPI University. We have an accelerated program that allows you to earn an Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts in as little as 1.5 years. Calling us could be the ingredient missing from your culinary masterpiece. It could be the Best Decision You Ever Make!
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