Becoming a sous chef--the coveted role beneath the executive chef or chef de cuisine--takes a culinary education and years of experience. It is a career builder, and generally a sous chef spot will open doors to bigger opportunities. With only a few hundred thousand of them in the country, competition is fierce.
A Culinary Career Builder
Sous, meaning "under" or "underneath" in French, is the kind of chef who runs the production in a kitchen. The executive chef spends much of his or her time in an office, making executive decisions about the menu and the restaurant. It is the job of the sous chef to command the kitchen and keep things running smoothly, supervising staff, and overseeing all operations. Sous chefs usually have experience in all areas of the kitchen.
Going to culinary school, while not absolutely required for some culinary jobs, is important in today's competitive job market. Most sous chefs who are considered for higher positions have attended culinary school, and they credit their education for their success. Many universities are adding culinary programs to their offerings, and some even offer externships after graduation--perfect opportunities for starting your culinary career.
The Life of a Sous Chef
Long hours on your feet and a pace that will knock your socks off are common. Culinary school prepares new sous chefs for chaotic kitchens, but professional experience is needed to master the art of running one. Once you do, you can make a name for yourself through the quality of the food, the cleanliness and function of the kitchen, and the reputation of the restaurant.
While most salaries begin humbly (hourly rates for sous chefs without experience can be as low as $8 or $9 per hour), the ending can be as satisfying as a good meal. While you might make between $25,000 and $40,000 per year as a new sous chef, you can get promoted to executive sous chef and make up to $60,000. Hourly rates can increase to as much as $125 in prominent hotels, too.
Beyond that, if you do well and make a name for yourself as a sous chef, you can be elevated to an executive chef position. Going from "sous" to "executive" can mean an annual salary of over $100,000 and even up past the $200,000 mark.
To Sous is Divine
Being a sous chef is nothing short of exciting for culinary professionals who love the business. Rafael Gonzalez, a sous chef from Miami, FL, gained important experience in New York before recently moving to Canada. He calls working with the top ingredients and top industry professionals "astonishing," and he loves New York for this reason. It's been great for his career. "It just doesn't get better than this."
Gonzalez enjoyed the auspicious post of sous chef at The Pierre in The Pierre Hotel New York, a Four Seasons hotel. There he was discovered by a prominent restaurant manager, who moved him to a Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver and up the food ladder from sous to executive chef.
The sky's the limit for those willing to roll up their sleeves and become a sous chef. With education, experience, and ambition, a prosperous culinary career awaits those chefs who have the drive to succeed.