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Is Your Job Actually Important to Your Restaurant?

Chef Steven Howard| Chef's Blade

Sous Chef

Sous chef is the most broadly defined position in the kitchen. It can be an executive position in a huge operation or “chief cook and bottle washer” in a smaller café. It can be a name for all assistants or only for the executive’s right hand man! The literal French translation of the word is “under.” So because each kitchen seems to have its own hierarchy and organization, the sous is under the executive chef and in charge of all the details the executive cannot get to. Therefore, short of a better title, the sous chef is basically the kitchen manager.

This means that the sous manages food cost, labor cost, and the readiness and cleanliness of every station in the kitchen. The sous is directly responsible for the physical implementations of all cost saving measures and compliances for the restaurant. The sous maximizes labor dollars by scheduling the top cooks/chefs on the busiest nights. This also maximizes service efficiency and cooking talent on the nights most of your customers come, ensuring the best customer service and the highest quality cuisine, directly affecting your sales.

The sous may also be the chef de cuisine or the person in charge of the daily specials, menu, recipes, preparation, and, yes, cost efficiency. By creating new recipes daily, the sous also administrates, develops, and trains his or her staff on new recipes and techniques. This way the sous can gauge and track every staff member’s talent and professional development, which he or she reports to the executive.

In today’s kitchen the sous must also be a software and data entry wiz. The executive gives the sous the prep and yield lists he or she wants performed and the sous must follow up on every BOH worker to make sure the orders are being met to specification and then entered properly and delivered to the executive for proper administration. All of this is critical to every restaurant’s profitability. Imagine if the prep is off (as mentioned in the prep section), an extra 2 hours are scheduled daily, your only saucier is out for a week, and the sous hasn’t trained anyone in the interim — the service and taste suffers for that week. These easily compounded errors could cost a restaurant thousands of dollars over a month and eventually close the place up.

So how does a sous become the executive when the old fart has been there forever and won’t retire! Cyanide possibly? This is where social networking (not necessarily the computerized kind) and employer changes must be considered. You must go out and socialize within your local restaurant industry top chefs and managers. You’ll get the skinny before a new position comes available around town. It may also get back to the boss you’re looking and maybe a new position comes up with a potential expansion by your current owner — but be wary about being too obvious as your boss may not appreciate your looking around. Lastly, top sous are always offered positions as executives in start-up or smaller concept restaurants. The pay may not be as great, but the work is challenging and you’ll get the title you want.

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