How to Become a Sous Chef

The culinary arts is a field where edible art is created every day.

A sous chef is the second in command in a traditional kitchen, under the direction of the executive chef.

There are many ways to become a sous chef in this exciting field.

There are as many opportunities for working as a sous chef as there are restaurants around the globe.

Most will also choose an area of expertise along with their general culinary training.

People in this career enjoy daily challenges, managing a crew and have a passion for cooking.

Education Requirements to Become a Sous Chef

While there is not a definite educational requirement to become a sous chef, a degree in culinary arts will help.

There are some local community colleges that offer a two year degree in culinary arts that will prepare the recipient for a career as a sous chef.

Some programs can be completed on a full-time or part-time schedule depending on the school, and there are private and public institutions that fall into this category.

A four year degree can also be earned with a major in hotel or restaurant management.

These programs will have some cooking as part of the curriculum as well as advanced management classes designed for those entering food and beverage.

There is another path to become a sous chef that does not require a formal education.

Anyone that is willing to learn can start working in a kitchen as a prep or line cook.

Skills are then taught by the current sous chef and executive chef over the span of a few years.

This pathway will allow someone to gain practical experience, but may take significantly longer and may not lead to work in a prestigious location.

In any educational path you choose to take, a certification is the standard credentials for a sous chef.

Obtaining a certification involves having about five years of professional cooking experience, and the American Culinary Federation grants this and other certifications to help progress your career.

Sous Chef Job Description

The typical day of a sous chef will vary depending on the kitchen they work, the location, cuisine and amount of people they oversee.

In smaller operations, they may also take part in the prep and cooking aspect of the kitchen.

Duties in larger operations may lean more towards managing others and providing guidance in training new employees.

The specific job duties that are done will ultimately depend on where and what cuisine you choose.

Certain cuisines, such as French, are more involved and will have job duties that are geared more towards cooking rather than management.

Food that is more easily made, such as institutional settings, will have the higher emphasis on management.

Here are some duties that are common to many sous chefs:

  • Maintaining cleanliness of the kitchen
  • Responsible for scheduling work and events
  • Order supplies and food
  • Carry out the orders of the executive chef
  • Prep and cook food as needed

Sous Chef Salary and Career Path

The earnings potential of a sous chef is highly dependent on the location of which they work.

A full-service restaurant may offer $36,000 a year while a resort may be more along the lines of $46,000 a year.

Some are able to come up with an earnings contract that will earn them more money as the business becomes more profitable.

There are also unwritten benefits of being a sous chef which may include:

  • Included meals, uniforms and personal kitchen tools
  • Learning a new menu and cuisine when changing jobs
  • Living in tourist destinations
  • Experiencing a different culture, if traveling as part of the work

It is important to remember that wherever there are people, there is always a job for a sous chef.

Vacation, resort and tourist destinations are common areas for a sous chef to work, as well as on a cruise ship.

Planning to go into one of these locations is competitive; having a formal degree is helpful when looking for work in these areas.

There is also an international demand for those that are properly trained in culinary arts.

For more information about becoming a sous chef check out The American Culinary Federation

For those who enjoy cooking, taking responsibility, helping to create a masterpiece everyday and are willing to follow their dreams the career of sous chef can be a rewarding option.

A formal degree may be the preferred way to enter a high-end establishment, but the title of sous chef can be earned through hard work by learning the trade.

Start working in a kitchen as soon as possible to see if this is something that you may enjoy doing.

If one kitchen gave you a bad experience, choose another to try to give a more positive one; you are bound to find a location that will be a perfect fit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sous chef?

A sous chef is the second-in-command in the kitchen.

Sous chefs have a lot of responsibilities and can later be promoted to executive chefs.

Sous-chef plan and decide how the food is presented on the plate, they supervise kitchen staff, train new chefs and make sure that the food that goes to the customer’s table maintains high standards.

In order to make sure that all the kitchen equipment is in working order, sous chefs need a good understanding of how the appliances work.

Sous chefs need many other skills, including dexterity, creativity, a kin sense of smell and taste, communication skills and leadership skills.

How much does a sous chef make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for chefs and head cooks was $48,460 a year in May of 2018.

How much a sous chef makes depends on many factors, including the place where they work and their level of experience.

Those who work in upscale restaurants and hotels usually earn more than the rest.

How much does it cost to become a sous chef?

Sous chefs usually get their position through promotion but they need training and experience working as chefs.

Many sous chefs complete their education at a community college, cooking school, trade school or four-year college.

Tuition costs vary depending on the school you choose, but culinary schools usually cost more than $30,000.

Some chefs learn by participating in mentorship programs, where they can learn from experienced chefs.

Obtaining certification from the American Culinary Federation can increase your chances of becoming a sous chef.

Total costs for getting your sous chef certification are between $245-$445.

What is the demand for sous chefs?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for chefs and head cooks is expected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Population and income growth result in a higher demand for quality meals.

More restaurants are expected to be open in the future and there will be more jobs available for chefs, head chefs, and sous chefs.

How long does it take to become a sous chef?

Many sous chefs earn their position by being promoted after years of experience working as chefs.

In order to learn and perfect your cooking skills, you need a lot of training and practice.

You can learn on-the-job by finding employment in an entry-level position at a restaurant or by attending a two-year or four-year culinary school program.

These programs will teach you all the aspects of kitchen work, including menu planning, food sanitation, and purchasing methods.

Many chefs start by getting a job as a line cook, getting the chance of learning from experienced chefs.

Chefs may also learn through apprenticeships programs which usually last around two years and combine instruction and hands-on learning.

Certification is not required but it can show a prospective employer your level of competence and skills.

The American Culinary Federation offers various levels of certification for chefs.

In order to apply for certification as a Certified Sous Chef, you will need an associate’s degree in culinary arts and at least three years of entry-level culinary experience.

If you don’t hold an associate’s degree you will need at least five years of work experience.

You will also need at least two years of experience in supervising kitchen staff before applying for certification as a sous chef.

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