Sous chefs and their role in the F&B industry

Sous chef is one of the most sought-after professions in the culinary world. They receive great recognition and respect from colleagues and customers due to the amount of workload involved in the role. Some responsibilities of sous chefs include but are not limited to designing menus, training junior chefs, and negotiating with suppliers. These can all be in a typical day’s work. This article will provide basic information about who they are, what their role involves and how important it is in the Food & Beverage industry. 

So who are sous chefs? 

The mysterious sounding title stems from the French word “under”. Hence, sous chef means “under the chef”, sometimes referred to in the industry as “second chef” or “executive sous chef”. They work directly under the head chef (also known as “executive chef” or “chef de cuisine”). Sous chefs are considered second in command in the kitchen who not only assist and report to but also partner with the head chef. Especially, in the absence of the executive chef, the sous chef will be in charge of the staff and oversee all kitchen activities (e.g., food preparation and cooking) to make sure that the kitchen continues functioning as normal. 

Where do sous chefs work? 

You can come across sous chefs working in organizations of different shapes and sizes provided that the team consists of more than one person. Typically, they work in kitchens of restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, and resorts. These are medium to high end establishments with highly standardized kitchen setups. 

However, there are ample opportunities for sous chefs to work at other businesses. They can be employed by boutique bistros, pubs, specialist bakeries, school kitchens, well-off private homes, event management companies and contract catering providers. Increasingly, they are also seen accompanying personal chefs and caterers as experienced assistants. 

What are the duties and responsibilities of a sous chef? 

Precise description of sous chefs varies across establishments. This can depend on their size, scope, personnel arrangement, and organizational structure. To illustrate, a sous chef working in a five-star hotel or restaurant will hold more administrative responsibilities than those who operate in smaller organizations like a boutique bistro. But generally speaking, a sous chef role always involves assisting upper level managers (e.g., executive chef) to ensure a high degree of customer satisfaction. 

The duties and responsibilities that a sous chef is likely to perform on a daily basis include: 

  • Assisting the head chef or executive chef in the daily running of the kitchen 
  • Managing the kitchen staff and dealing with disciplinary and HR issues in the absence of head chefs 
  • Leading other chefs to prepare and cook dishes, checking food quality and overseeing cooking techniques 
  • Planning and directing how food will be presented creatively 
  • Training junior/ apprentice chefs, line cooks, and other kitchen staffers
  • Preparing and welcoming new staff 
  • Designing or supporting the head chef with new ingredients, recipes, and menus
  • Utilizing leftovers and resources efficiently
  • Ensuring the standard of food hygiene and safety regulations in the kitchen 
  • Setting the rota, delegating tasks to cooks and dividing labor within different kitchen stations 
  • Establishing strong relationships with other departments of the business (e.g., managers, receptionists, waiters, bar staff) 
  • Ordering food provision and negotiating with suppliers and distributors 
  • Managing inventory and controlling stock using a specified budget (i.e., tracking and reducing food costs)
  • Maintaining cooking utensils and equipment 
  • Conducting food tastings for potential customers 
  • Covering for any kitchen stations if required 
  • Cross-marketing in order to boost sales (e.g., pairing wine with food)

As evidently, there are several tasks that are demanded of a typical sous chef. However, depending on the situation, how sous chefs spend one workday will vary. This requires a sous chef to be extremely flexible and skilled at improvisation, leadership, and organization. 

How important are sous chefs in the industry? 

Sous chefs are definitely not an entry-level position and they are regarded as the cornerstone of a professional kitchen. Many cooks set their eyes on sous chef roles before reaching the ultimate goal of becoming a head chef.

Traditionally, the sous chef is always present in the kitchen and he/she plays a pivotal part in the management team. Otherwise, they can work opposite hours to the head chef to cover for their off-time and supervise the chef de parties and commis chefs. 

Simply put, sous chefs are the eyes, ears, and hands of the executive chef and they bridge the professional gap between line cooks and the head chef. Without a sous chef to support upper level managers and motivate team members, it might be impossible for the kitchen to operate smoothly. 

The bottom line 

Sous chef positions are no trivial jobs; they are senior staff running kitchens of several hospitality businesses, from luxurious hotels to simply a pub. Being a sous chef is especially demanding and those aspiring to land such a role need intensive training and a great deal of hands-on experience. However, all of the hard work will pay off as the career prospects and learning opportunities are very rewarding. Since sous chefs play key roles in the Food & Beverage industry, vacancies are always increasing and they are undoubtedly a very popular profession choice. 

A CAVEAT: in large establishments, head chefs and executive chefs can be separate roles. The former still involves cooking and day-to-day managing and supervising the kitchen itself. The latter, however, owns an office in the organization, takes care of paperwork or even oversees several branches. The line between these two roles have somewhat been blurred and they can be used interchangeably in most cases. Thus, for the sake of convenience and generalization, this article does not distinguish between the two terms. 

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