Becoming a Sous Chef

An executive chef is the manager of the kitchen or restaurant; a sous chef is their deputy. A sous chef position requires several years of kitchen experience, education at a culinary school, a varying schedule, reasonable salary and some opportunities for advancement.

Experience and Education

To work in a kitchen, you don't even need a high school diploma. But to become a sous chef, you will probably need to attend a cooking school or culinary arts program. There are many cooking schools to choose from--Le Cordon Bleu is probably the most notable and well known cooking school, but you can also select a specialty cooking school, such as one for raw food or vegetarian cuisine, depending on your interests and skills.

You can also attend a 2-4 year culinary arts program at a college. The advantage to attending a culinary arts program is that you will also have to take business training, an important component of training if you wish to become an executive chef or own your own restaurant.

If you have limited experience working in kitchens, you should work in a restaurant while in school, learning and working at as many of the different stations as you can. As a sous chef, it will be your responsibility to train staff for those positions and manage the work at one or more stations.

Schedule

A chef's schedule is hectic. You can start work very early in the morning, prepping food for the busy shifts, buying produce and other products for consumption in the restaurant. You will usually have to show up before your shift and assist in the preparation of a meal that the staff will eat so they can discuss the food on the menu knowledgeably with customers. Your shift may include very long hours, working from the beginning of the evening meal until the restaurant's closing time. Because of the long hours, chefs sometimes work four days on, three days off, though this will vary from restaurant to restaurant.

While on shift, you will be responsible for supervising staff, prepping food, checking that the meal is prepared to the standards of the restaurant, training staff and correcting them as needed, and dealing with customer complaints and compliments. You must switch very quickly from cooking to customer service if you are to succeed as a sous chef.

Salary

Depending on where you work, a sous chef can make from between $27,000 a year to $42,000 a year. A star executive chef may not pay more, since you will be adding their restaurant to your resume. Look for a restaurant that has a reputation for low turnover, since this may indicate better working conditions, including a decent salary to retain staff.

Advancement

Some sous chefs find their positions as soon as they leave culinary school, so it is possible to begin your career at the sous chef level with limited kitchen experience. However, they may work for many years without becoming an executive chef. To move your career ahead, you should look for positions in other cities and other countries, diversifying your experience, culinary abilities and language skills. This experience will help you manage different types of cuisine and a multicultural and multilingual kitchen staff, which is the reality in most urban restaurants. A broad experience and the ability to deal with managerial tasks, such as a diverse staff, and handle business tasks, such as inventory management, logistics and budget, will help you advance to the executive chef level.