What is a Sous Chef?

There is a hierarchy in working kitchens, and somewhere in the middle between the dishwasher and the executive chef is the sous chef. Typically the head of a kitchen, responsible for staff and menu, is the executive chef or the chef de cuisine, depending on the size of the restaurant or kitchen. Under this head chef is the sous chef. The sous chef, in turn, is responsible for managing chefs de partie and cooks.

All careers in culinary arts are growing right now, with an overall increase in the number of positions of nine percent through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Depending on your education and extent of formal training, you may be able to start out your culinary career as a sous chef or work your way up from cook.

Duties of a Sous Chef

In a very large restaurant or other food service establishment, a sous chef may work under a chef de cuisine, who in turn works under an executive chef. In smaller kitchens the sous chef generally works under just one other chef, the executive or chef de cuisine. When that head chef is not in the kitchen, the sous chef is in charge, responsible for managing and overseeing the work of the other cooks.

Some of the typical duties of a sous chef include:

  • Preparing, cooking and plating a variety of foods
  • Inspecting and supervising the work of other cooks
  • Coordinating other workers in the kitchen
  • Developing recipes and presentations for dishes
  • Inventorying supplies
  • Keeping the kitchen clean and organized
  • Training new kitchen workers
  • Ensuring safe and sanitary kitchen practices are followed

Where Sous Chefs Work

Most chefs of all types work in restaurants or similar food service locations, like cafeterias in hospitals, amusement parks or casinos. As a sous chef you may also work in hotel kitchens, in banquet centers, in commercial food production facilities or in private homes for personal chefs or caterers. Some chefs are self-employed, but this is not as typical for a sous chef. Most self-employed chefs work as the only or the head chef in their businesses.

How to Become a Sous Chef

There are two main paths to becoming a sous chef. One is to be hired in a kitchen and training on the job. If you choose this path, expect to have a lower position, even as a dishwasher or busser, and to have to work your way up to cook and then chef. Before taking on a kitchen position, be sure that your employer is willing to train you and allow you to work up to cooking.

The other path is to go to culinary school. To become a sous chef, choose a general culinary arts program that will teach you all the basics of working in a kitchen. Schools may offer certificate programs that take just a few months to complete, but a two-year degree in culinary arts will give you the most extensive education. Depending on the employer, you may be hired directly to sous chef position after graduating.

Salary and Outlook

All types of chef careers are growing right now. The rate of growth is 10 percent, and there will be many jobs available for new chefs in the coming years, no matter where you live. As for salary, the BLS reports that chefs earn an average of $48,460 per year and $23.30 per hour, but there is a lot of range. The highest earners in this career make more than $81,000 per year.

With growth in the industry, low requirements for education and good salaries, a career as a sous chef is a smart move for many people looking for a first or new job. If you love food, being creative and working hard, this could be your next career.