The Culinary Arts: A Day in the Life of a Sous Chef

Sous chefs

In the kitchens of fine dining restaurants around the world, the Executive Chef may be the one that dreams up the dishes and plans the menu, but it’s the Sous Chef—the second in command—that actually makes sure the food goes from the kitchen to your plate. Sous Chefs not only do the actual cooking; they also do the scheduling of staff, order the inventory, supervise the station cooks and other kitchen staff, when the Executive Chef is away, they rule the kitchen.

Long Hours in the Kitchen & First to Arrive

A Sous Chef works long hours. At a restaurant that serves only lunch and dinner, the Sous Chef often is the first to arrive (excepting the Pastry Chefs, who are usually in long before dawn), usually three or four hours before most of us even think about lunch. The Sous Chef will first take the time to be sure that the kitchen is spotless, as hygiene usually falls to their care. Although the Sous Chef is usually the first in to the kitchen in the morning, they are not the last to leave, so it’s important that they inspect every work station and make sure that food service can begin.

Menu Review & Inventory

Once the Sous Chef has decided the kitchen is ready to go, they first review the menu. The Executive Chef—often the last to leave a restaurant—most likely put the menu together the day before. As soon as the Sous Chef knows what is on tap for the day, he or she will begin examining inventory to make sure that everything they need for the day’s dishes is in stock. If not, they will advise the Executive Chef on making changes to the menu or they may make substitutions themselves, depending on their relationship with the Executive Chef. They can also often place orders for food to come the same day if needed, but since most restaurant menus are sketched out a week or more in advance (although final decisions are made day-by-day), ordering will have already taken place. The Sous Chef is responsible for both ordering and inventory.

Prep

Once inventory has been taken, it’s time to begin prep work. Some food preparation may have already been done the day before, but most is done on the spot. The Sous Chef will usually find that two meals need to be prepared at once—both lunch and dinner. Additionally, many fine dining establishments feed their staff, and the Sous Chef is often responsible for preparing that meal as well, although it’s often much simpler than the fare the customers eat.

Lunch Rush

As lunchtime nears, the Sous Chef will check the number of reservations the restaurant has, and estimate how much food will be needed for those tables. At this point the Executive Chef may come on duty and the two chefs will confer and discuss any issues or changes to the menu that may be needed. The Sous Chef will then carry out any additional orders that the Executive Chef has decried. The Executive Chef may also spend some time circulating in the restaurant and meeting customers, while the Sous Chef stays in the kitchen making sure that the Executive Chef’s recipes shine.

Dinner Prep

Once the final lunch meal is served, the Sous Chef immediately begins final preparations for dinner. The Executive Chef is usually very much in charge of the kitchen at this time of day, and as the Sous Chef finishes the dinner prep, his or her duties begin wrapping up for the day. As dinner begins being served, the Line Cooks take over and the Sous Chef wraps up the day by again reviewing inventory and placing orders. They may have yet another meeting with the Executive Chef to go over the menus for the coming days, and the Sous Chef will do any advanced preparation that needs to be done for the upcoming day.

After a long, hot day in the kitchen, you’ll often find the Sous Chef enjoying a cocktail at the bar as the dinner hour is in full swing. Then it’s off to bed for another early start the next day.

How Do I Become A Sous Chef?

A Sous Chef is often an Executive Chef in training. Most Sous Chefs go on to head up their own restaurant kitchen at some point in their career. As a result, a Sous Chef needs the same culinary education that an Executive Chef needs—usually a degree from a reputable culinary arts school, and an internship or apprenticeship that can last as long as three years. If you love the art of cooking, a career as a chef may be the right choice for you! Learn more about a Culinary Arts Education at this website.