Who is a Sous Chef?

The kitchen is one of the key areas of any hospitality operation. Food is central to life, and when it comes to travel and tourism, a menu can be the difference between an ordinary experience and a great one.

This makes the chef team a crucial element of any good hospitality establishment. If you want to be a chef and one day have the opportunity to run your own kitchen, the position of Sous Chef might just be for you!

Sous what now?

A sous chef is the second in command in the kitchen. Many of the terms that relate to cooking and cuisine in a professional setting are French. ‘Sous’ is French for ‘under’ and the Sous Chef works directly under the leader of the kitchen, the Executive Chef.

The Sous Chef answers to the Executive Chef but will also manage other members of the kitchen staff and is in charge when the Executive Chef is unavailable or on leave.

Life as a Sous Chef

A Sous Chef needs to have a certain level of education and training and be able to work across all areas of kitchen life, including preparing and presenting food, and managing and training staff.

As assistant to the Executive Chef, the Sous Chef is responsible for:

  • Menu design
  • Cooking different cuisines (food types)
  • Overseeing the kitchen team
  • Ensuring cleanliness and order in the kitchen
  • Management of food resources and inventory to ensure sufficient supplies
  • Management of suppliers to ensure quality standards are maintained

Working conditions

While working as a Sous Chef can be challenging and creative, it can also be stressful and demanding. Hospitality kitchens are notoriously high-stress environments and Sous Chefs are expected to work well and quickly under pressure from clients, colleagues, and management. Sous Chefs also tend to work long hours, often over weekends and holidays, with little credit.

On the upside, Sous Chefs are able to work directly with an Executive Chef and are often given the chance to show off their creative talents in their work. This means there is great potential for growth.

Sous Chefs interested in trying new experiences and environments can work in a number of different establishments, expanding their knowledge and skills through practical experience, and, if they are capable, work their way up to Executive Chef level.

Earning potential

Sous Chefs just starting out in the hospitality industry will not earn high salaries, especially compared to the hours they’re required to work. The average Sous Chef’s salary in 2013 is R17,000 per month.

However, with skill and experience, when working in a luxury establishment, a Sous Chef can substantially increase their earnings and enjoy the travel and holiday perks of their place of work.

What does it take to become a Sous Chef?

Sous Chefs need to be more than good cooks. They should have a passion for food and for learning new techniques. While showing respect for their superiors, they should also be leaders with strong communication skills and the ability to thrive under pressure or in tense situations. Being able to lead by example is also important to a Sous Chef’s success.

Professional chefs need to have strong culinary qualifications from a reputable hospitality school or culinary arts programme, and plenty of practical kitchen experience. Take note though: the Sous Chef position is one you have to work towards. You won’t walk out of your studies straight into this position. To get to Sous Chef level in a five-star property can take some time.

A Sous Chef can work in a variety of hospitality establishments, including hotels, game lodges, cruise liners, spas, and boutique guest houses. Forming a strong relationship with an established Executive Chef in a reputable kitchen can go a long way in advancing a Sous Chef’s career.

However, a flexible Sous Chef can also see the world and enjoy valuable kitchen experience by working across different areas of the hospitality industry.