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What Is a Sous Chef? Definition and How To Become

June 30, 2021

If you have a passion for cooking and creating new dishes, you may want to consider working as a sous chef. A sous chef's job extends beyond cooking delicious food because they also manage and train other kitchen staff. Understanding the demands and work of a sous chef can help you take charge of your career in the kitchen. In this article, we explain what a sous chef is, what they do and how to become one.

What is a sous chef?

As a sous chef, you are holding a managerial position. The sous chef is the kitchen's second-in-command, and can be viewed as the assistant to the executive or head chef. The chefs split the work such that when one of the two is working on one aspect of running the kitchen, such as the operational work, the other focuses on inventory. Their working hours may be as long as the opening hours of their company or food place, which is similar to that of the head chef.

These are some responsibilities of a sous chef:

  • Supervising kitchen operations
  • Preparing ingredients and the dishes
  • Hiring and training new team members
  • Ensuring customer satisfaction
  • Ordering of food and managing ingredients so that they are fresh and used by the expiry dates
  • Maintaining kitchen cleanliness
  • Handling equipment maintenance
  • Managing administrative work

Related: Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Average salary of a sous chef

The average national salary is $46,968 per year. Salaries can depend on their experience, number of hours they are expected to work and the location of their workplace. Sous chefs can work at different places such as schools, companies, restaurants, hotels, resorts or cruise ships.

How to become a sous chef

These are the steps to guide you on your journey to becoming a sous chef:

1. Get culinary training

Although there are no strict qualifications needed to be a chef, studying a relevant diploma course can equip you with important information and knowledge. Some courses may also require you to complete apprenticeships, and so the schools can already help you connect with potential future employers. You can also make friends with your course mates who may be aspiring chefs, and you can form groups to share valuable information with one another, such as cooking tips and job opportunities.

These are a few diploma courses that you can take for formal culinary training:

  • Temasek Polytechnic's Diploma in Baking and Culinary Science
  • Temasek Polytechnic's Diploma in Culinary and Catering Management
  • At-SunriceGlobalChef Academy's Diploma in Pastry and Bakery
  • At-SunriceGlobalChef Academy's Diploma in Culinary Arts
  • SHATEC's Diploma in Culinary Skills
  • SHATEC's Diploma in Pastry and Baking

2. Seek out self-learning

You may prefer to work in the food and beverage industry directly for experience rather than take a diploma programme which may span a few years. In that case, it's good to combine practical training with your own self-learning. You can also choose to do some self-learning about this industry before you get started in your culinary journey to ensure you understand this field of work well. Read books from professional chefs and teachers at culinary schools.

Apart from that, register for short courses, so you can try culinary work on a smaller scale. Here's a list of some schools that offer short courses for you to get further training:

  • Asian Culinary Institute Singapore
  • Palate Sensations Culinary School's Chef In Training
  • AllSpice Institute
  • ABC Cooking Studio
  • D'Open Kitchen
  • Brettschneider's Baking & Cooking School

Related: Effective Ways to Enhance Your Personal Development Skills

3. Gain kitchen experience

Especially if you are in a big kitchen, and it's your first time working in a kitchen, you may have to work your way up from the junior position. Juniors can be assigned basic work such as cutting onions, peeling carrots or measuring the right amount of ingredients for chefs to use. Without much cooking, you do at this level and by doing simple tasks in the kitchen, you have time to get used to the constant heat in the kitchen.

After a few years working at the entry-level or depending on how quickly you progress on the job, you can be promoted to the managerial role of a sous chef. There may also be different tiers within the category of sous chefs, such as junior, senior and executive sous chefs. To gain relevant experience, you can benefit from working closely with the chefs and observing what and how they do the cooking.

4. Hone your skills

Work as a sous chef can be physically and mentally demanding, as you may work long hours and manage multiple tasks at any one time. These are the most important skills to possess as a sous chef:

Leadership skills

Kitchen staff work as a team to plan, prepare and present the final dish. An experienced sous chef can lead the team effectively and maximise their productivity. Displaying strong leadership skills means the chef can give clear directions and is well-respected. Whilst work in the kitchen can be stressful, a good sous chef can work under pressure. This means they can support the head chef and other kitchen staff simultaneously while staying approachable and preserving a healthy working environment.

Passion

Being passionate about food and cooking is vital in your job in the culinary industry. If you thoroughly enjoy the process of cooking, including buying, arranging, making and serving food, then this can make your work more fulfilling and meaningful. Having passion can also keep you motivated, especially when it's peak period for the kitchen. Peak periods usually happen during celebratory occasions, so genuinely enjoying your work is important.

Organisational skills

Unlike office spaces, kitchens as workplaces can be hectic environments. As such, keeping it clean and neat can help you work more efficiently. Being organised means you can readily find the ingredients and equipment you need. When your space is well-organised, you can feel a greater sense of control. This is particularly important as kitchen staff often need to multitask. As a sous chef, organisational skills are even more critical, as you're delegating work in the kitchen, managing time and supervising your coworkers.

Creativity

Experimentation and creativity is a valued skill as a sous chef. Being creative in menu planning can deliver greater satisfaction to customers as there is variety in the dishes they get to try. Not only does this apply to taste, it also pertains to the visual appeal of the dish, such as its decoration and presentation. Creativity can also improve and enhance processes in terms of how the kitchen operates.

Collaborative skills

A kitchen may comprise people from various backgrounds working in proximity with one another. Furthermore, many steps may be required in preparing a delicious meal. As such, teamwork and collaborative skills in a kitchen are important. Having a great dynamic within your team can enhance your happiness at work and work can be very enjoyable. This in turn stimulates creativity and fuels your passion for creating dishes people love.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Set up your own business

If you're adventurous and confident in your skill, you can start your own cafe or restaurant. Competition can be stiff with new food and beverage establishments springing up ever so frequently. However, doing your own business means you're doing everything independently. From sourcing for suppliers to planning the food items and dishes you want to serve your customers, you can expect to learn many lessons quickly.

6. Join culinary competitions

There are various cooking competitions on television, radio and other media outlets. The judges invited can be well-known in the industry or have years of experience, so you can gain practical advice and feedback about your dishes. They can also become your mentors if you establish good relations with them during the competition. By participating in culinary competitions, you can demonstrate your passion and boost your portfolio. With the added exposure, you can even be headhunted by businesses if you prove yourself to be a talented chef.

Tips for developing your career as a sous chef

Here are some tips for you to progress in your career as a sous chef:

  • Satisfy the customers: If a chef can satisfy existing customers and bring in new customers for the business, this means they are an asset to the organisation. Thus, a sous chef who prioritises customer satisfaction and creates palatable and appealing dishes can be more successful in his job.
  • Find a mentor: A friendly, nurturing work culture can be a good place for you to find a chef who can be your mentor. Continuous learning can ensure you constantly formulate new and improved recipes.
  • Manage your time well: Being punctual or even early can gain the respect of your peers as they see that you are serious and professional in your work. When you get promoted, they are more likely to take instructions from you readily.
  • Remain calm: There may be mistakes committed in the kitchen, be it from you or the other kitchen staff. By maintaining your composure, you can rectify the challenges as they come.
  • Write everything down: From styles of cooking, recipes to the myriad of seasoning possibilities, taking notes of everything can help you remember what you've learnt and assist you in menu planning.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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