Sous Chef Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
A sous chef's median salary is around $42,000. Is it worth the education or training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career outlook to find out if becoming a sous chef is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Sous Chef

A sous chef helps manage the kitchen and supervise the cooks along with the executive chef who is first-in-command. Explore the pros and cons of becoming a sous chef and decide if this is the right career for you.

Pros of a Sous Chef Career
Multiple education/training paths (can earn a postsecondary degree, complete an apprenticeship or learn on the job)*
May work in a variety of settings (fine dining and full-service restaurants, hotels, resorts and casinos)*
Jobs available nationwide*
Second highest rank in the kitchen*

Cons of a Sous Chef Career
Slow growth expected (5% from 2012-2022 for all chefs and head cooks)*
Fierce competition at upscale restaurants, casinos and hotels*
Work settings can be mildly hazardous and uncomfortable (burns, slips, hot)*
Long hours standing on your feet*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

As a sous chef, you can expect to help supervise the kitchen staff and may assume an executive chef's responsibilities in his or her absence. You also ensure the kitchen and equipment are sanitary and functioning properly. Because sous chefs are responsible for ordering and inventory, you may review each menu with the executive chef to ensure the kitchen is well-stocked each day. Although you may perform some food preparation duties, supervising the other cooks who prepare most of the meals would be a main task.

Salary and Job Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that chefs and head cooks (a category that encompasses sous chefs) made median salaries of about $42,000, as of 2014. Top-paying industries for these types of chefs include the federal executive branch of the government and management consulting services - both with an annual mean wage of nearly $66,000.

Job outlook projections specifically for sous chefs aren't currently available; however, the BLS predicted that employment of chefs and head cooks should experience little change, increasing by five percent between 2012 and 2022. One factor affecting this downturn is restaurants' needs to cut costs; rather than hire more experienced professionals, some restaurants are opting for less experienced or educated cooks to perform the necessary work. Intense competition was expected at finer dining establishments where wages are typically higher. Sous chefs with several years of experience, good business skills and originality should have the best prospects.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

The BLS listed three main ways you can become a sous chef. One is to start out in a lower level position and work your way up, learning the various skills to work as a sous chef from other chefs working in the kitchen. This path may take many years. Another way is to seek out a formal apprenticeship program where you would receive classroom and hands-on training for approximately two years. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) backs several apprenticeship programs as do some culinary schools, trade unions and associations.

You can also receive formal training by enrolling in a program at a community college, culinary school or technical institute. You receive ample cooking experience and learn about every facet of working in a kitchen. You generally complete an out-placement or internship as part of your program. Lastly, the BLS stated that you can find an experienced chef to mentor you and teach you tricks of the trade.

Useful Skills

Since you'll be working with food, it's important to have a good sense of smell and taste. This trait can help you make sure dishes are suitable to serve. Manual dexterity is also necessary in order to hone your knife skills. Additional skills that benefit sous chefs include time-management and leadership, so you can efficiently manage kitchen staff and make sure plates get out in an orderly fashion.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers advertising for sous chefs generally look for applicants with supervising experience and experience working as a sous chef. The three job postings below show what some employers were looking for during April 2012:

  • A grill in Baton Rouge, Lousiana, was seeking a sous chef with postsecondary culinary training and/or two years of kitchen management experience. This person would ensure a clean and safe kitchen and that dishes are made to the restaurant's standards.
  • An Italian restaurant in Florida advertised for a sous chef with 3-5 years of high volume upscale dining and managing experience.
  • A restaurant in Chicago, Illinois, was looking for a bilingual sous chef with 2-3 years of experience in high-traffic kitchens and knowledge of tapas or Spanish cuisine.

How To Stand Out in the Field

Get Certified

The ACF offers a voluntary Certified Sous Chef credential, which can demonstrate your competence and lead to better paying jobs, according to the BLS. Requirements for certification include having five years of experience as an entry-level cook. If you have an associate degree, you only need three years or successful completion of an approved apprenticeship. If you have a high school diploma or GED, you need 50 hours of continuing education credits, and if you don't have a diploma or its equivalent, you need 150 hours. In addition, you must have completed three 30-hour courses in supervisory management, sanitation and food safety and nutrition. Finally, you must pass written and practical exams.

Develop Your Palate

A sharp sense of taste and smell is vital for all chefs. This helps in the creation of new dishes and in predicting what diners will like most. You can do this by tuning in to the smell, texture and appearance of different foods, taking notes on your impressions and tasting with other people.

Other Careers to Consider

Cook

If a culinary career is your goal, but the management functions don't appeal to you, consider a career as a cook. The training and education options are the same, and you could obtain employment in several different settings other than restaurants, including schools, hospitals and residences. Although the BLS reported a sluggish employment growth for cooks at only 8% from 2010-2020, job opportunities may be better than a sous chef's since many restaurants are opting to hire cooks in order to lower expenses. Wages for cooks vary, and the 2011 data from the BLS showed that those in restaurants earned median salaries of about $22,000, while those in private homes earned median annual incomes of about $28,000. Additionally, short order cooks earned median salaries of about $19,000, and fast food cooks earned yearly median wages of about $17,000.

Food Service Manager

If the management aspect is what appeals to you most, think about becoming a food service manager. These professionals are involved in all aspects of a dining establishment, including hiring, training and firing employees. Experience as a waiter/waitress or cook can lead you to becoming a food service manager, but postsecondary education can help you appeal to employers, who will provide you with on-the-job training. An important aspect to keep in mind is the employment growth rate of food service managers, which the BLS estimated should drop 3% between 2010 and 2020. Competition was expected to be stiff in the higher-end restaurants, but a relevant degree and experience in the field can help you stand out. The most opportunities were expected to arise in grocery, recreation and retail businesses that are looking to expand their services and offer prepared foods. The BLS reported that food service managers earned median salaries of about $48,000, as of 2011.

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