What's a sous chef?

The Sous Chef Position

Restaurants are intense, fast-paced places. It's the sous chef's job to keep them from falling apart.
Restaurants are intense, fast-paced places. It's the sous chef's job to keep them from falling apart.
©­iStockphoto/­Huchen Lu

­Anyone who's worke­d in the restaurant industry can attest that most restaurants resemble a powder keg covered with a veneer of hospitality more than that of a business. Deadlines come hard, fast and constantly, and most restaurants maintain time limits for an order to be prepared and served. It's the sous chef's responsibility to keep the fuse that's lit with each order from reaching the powder in the dining room.

Since the kitchen is effectively under his or her command, the buck stops with the sous chef when it comes to unhappy customers. This makes the sous chef, in restaurant terms, the expediter -- the liaison between customer and cook. If a plate arrives late or an order is fouled up, the sous chef is expected to directly accept any complaint a customer may have and remedy the situation. This can happen often, but the sous chef is generally granted the power to maintain the kitchen the way he or she sees fit. The best way to avoid errors in the kitchen is to have a well-trained staff.

It's up to the sous chef to cultivate the talents of the chefs and line cooks under him or her. Imparting wisdom requires experience, however, so sous chefs generally work their way up to the position. Often a sous chef will also need formal training at a culinary school before beginning work.

When arriving at the title of sous chef, it's a good idea to hang onto it for awhile. Some restaurants hiring a sous chef require candidates to already have several years of experience in the position. The Scalas Bistro in the legendary Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco, for example, requires candidates to have at least five years of experience as a sous chef to become theirs [source: JobSeeker.com].

This reveals the importance of the sous chef position. No one wants a sous chef who isn't prepared to handle anything that can be thrown at him or her in a kitchen; it's too risky. Sous chefs require years of experience to learn the ins and outs of restaurant work. Should a line cook unexpectedly fail to show up for a lunch, the sous chef must be prepared to step in. This shouldn't be a problem; sous chefs tend to graduate from the floater position -- a key cook in the kitchen who can tackle any job required.