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How Do You Become A Sous Chef

Updated on March 14, 2013
How to become a sous chef
How to become a sous chef

What Is A Sous Chef ?

This article is about becoming a sous chef, answering the question, "How do you become a sous chef?". But, first let's talk about what a sous chef is and what they do.

You've probably heard the term before, but what is a sous chef? Simply put, a sous chef is second in command of the kitchen, under the executive chef. The sous chef helps the executive chef out in his various duties, and is in charge of the staff on the executive chef's days off. A sous chef's main goal is usually to move up to an executive chef position.

So, that answers the question, "What is a sous chef?". But, how do you become a sous chef?

How Do You Become A Sous Chef?

Now lets discuss how do you become a sous chef. There are two ways to go about your goal of becoming a sous chef. The first one would be to attend culinary school. The second, would be to gain experience in a kitchen.

There is a lot of debate as to whether it's better to attend school or not. If you wanted to be a doctor, the answer would be clear, you have to go to school. But, cooking is a trade, you can work you way up to an executive chef position without ever stepping foot in a classroom. So, which is the better decision for you? Below we will discuss both of these options pertaining to the question how do you become a sous chef.

Culinary School : Earn A Degree To Become A Sous Chef

Culinary School is a great way to learn the skills you need to find a position in a professional kitchen. There are many schools located around the US that focus on culinary skills, and they normally range from 2-3 year programs. You can also find training programs for chefs and cooking at community colleges and technical schools.

Look for schools that have professional chefs with many years of experience teaching your classes. These are the best people to learn from, because they have been there, done that. Some schools will be able to offer you internships at local restaurants, this will allow you to gain some real world experience in the culinary field. You will want to find a school that offers job placement assistance after graduation.

After your graduation you should have a sound understanding of all aspects of working in a kitchen such as knife skills, menu planning, budgeting, ordering supplies, food safety procedures, nutrition, food storage procedures, as well as culinary techniques.

Most culinary students attend school with the dream of working as a sous chef after graduation. This is not practical. A sous chef position is not an entry level position, a graduate will almost never be hired on as a sous chef right after graduation. Your schooling helps you out a lot but you will need a ton of real kitchen experience before you will be promoted to sous chef.

Do you have to go to school to become a sous chef?
Do you have to go to school to become a sous chef?

Experience : Do I Have To Go To School To Become A Sous Chef?

No, you do not have to attend culinary school to become a sous chef, or an executive chef for that matter. However, you will have to be willing to start at the bottom of the totem pole and work yourself up the ladder. With hard work, passion, and dedication you will move up. Always display an eagerness to learn, and try to develop great relationships with everyone in the kitchen, especially the executive chef. Remember, the people above you in the kitchen are the ones you will be relying on for references.

You may start out as a dishwasher eventually moving up to a prep cook. With hard work, from a prep cook you will normally move up to a line cook. A position as a line cook really gives you the chance to shine. Come in to work every day prepared to do your best, make sure your preparing everything within your time limits, always help out when it's needed, and make sure your work is top quality every time. Doing so will ensure that you become a valued member of the kitchen, and that the chef takes notice of you and your hard work.

Let the chef of your kitchen know that you are interested in becoming a sous chef. This shows him that you are serious and looking for a career. The chef will start paying more attention to you and what you are doing in the kitchen, and how well you are doing. Often times he will work with you more if he knows you are interested in being promoted eventually, and start putting more pressure and responsibilities on you to see if you can handle them. This is a good thing, he's testing you. If you are giving your all every day, the chef will surely mention or keep you in mind for any upcoming promotions.

This is how you will move up the ladder to the sous chef position without attending culinary school. Keep in mind, it may take you years but, if you went to school you would have spent at least 2-3 years there and finished with a large amount of student loans.

Which Is Better, Culinary School Or Experience?

The high cost of a culinary education causes a lot of people to seek experience rather than schooling. The pay may be bad at first but you won't have the burden of student loans.

Students who attend culinary schools are lead to believe that they will start out making $15 an hour and obtain a great position, right after graduation. This is normally not the truth, a college graduate will usually start at a lower position as well, such as a prep cook averaging about $9 -$10 an hour. The reason, they just don't have the experience they need to obtain a better position in the kitchen. They will have to prove themselves in order to move up, just like the 'uneducated' cooking staff.

In the end experience does trump schooling in this field. The main thing that dictates whether or not you will be successful in this career is your hard work and passion for cooking. You can do well with a degree, and you can do well without a degree. The choice is yours.

A sous chef
A sous chef

A Sous Chef

No matter how you reached the level of sous chef, you will soon learn it is not an easy job. You are often expected to work 6 days a week, and those days will be long. The average sous chefs spends about 60 hours a week at work. You'll often find yourself working doubles, weekends, nights, and holidays.

You will need to have an understanding of the business side of the culinary world. You will normally assist the head chef with ordering food and supplies, budgeting expenses, and preparing menus. You will be held responsible for ensuring that all safety guidelines are followed and enforcing them when needed. You will find yourself dealing with unruly employees, perhaps making decisions on hiring and firing, and everything else that is needed to be done to ensure the kitchen is running smoothly. You will wear many hats as a sous chef, and the credit will usually be given to the executive chef. This is why you must be passionate about cooking to last in the culinary world, you must love what you do or you will end up quitting.

The next step after sous chef is an executive chef position. If you put in plenty of time and hard work as a sous chef you'll soon be on the way to running your own kitchen.

Salary - Sous Chef

The salary of a sous chef depends on many factors such as location, size of restaurant, and experience. I find that in the Pittsburgh PA area, the average salary for a sous chef starting out is between $30,000 - $36,000 a year. To get more accurate information I would suggest talking to sous chefs in your area.

How To Become A Sous Chef

Which path did you take or do you plan on taking?

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    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Haha, I understand, they have hardly any time at all to spend with family, friends, or even on themselves. She will have a lovely retirement though!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      my daughter, Robin Kloess, is a high priced chef. she has little to no time to spend the money she makes.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Thanks Marlene B, yes they treat food as art. My fiancé is a sous chef and he loves it. He didn't go to college for it, he started working his way up in the kitchen. It is a huge time eater though, you will work yourself until you can't work anymore...then you will work more. There are some great websites and blogs ran by chefs out there that can teach you all you need to know without going to school, you should check some of them out :)

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 5 years ago from Northern California, USA

      The culinary arts is quite fascinating to me. Sometimes I see what chefs do with food and wonder how anyone could eat such beautiful food. Maybe if they mess it up a little bit, I won't feel like I'm destroying it by eating it.

      I've often wanted to go to school to learn how to become a chef just for my own household. I think it would be fun. Great hub covering the things people need to consider before making a decision. And, the video was the perfect accompaniment.