April 12, 2023
Alipio Umiten IV

Sous Chef: Meaning, Role, Salary, & How to Become Certified

Is the restaurant industry a field that interests you for a career? If so, you may come across the term “sous chef.” But what is a sous chef, and what do they do?

This blog post explores the meaning and role of a sous chef in the professional kitchen. We’ll discuss the average pay rate for sous chefs in the US and provide you with recommendations on how to enter this profession.

We will also outline the steps on how to become a certified sous chef and highlight the benefits of obtaining this professional certification. If cooking is your passion and you're exploring a sous chef career, this is for you.

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Sous Chef Meaning: What Does Sous Chef Mean?

The term “sous chef” originates from French, which literally means “under chief.” It refers to the individual who is second-in-command in a professional kitchen.

What Is a Sous Chef?

A sous chef acts as the right-hand person to the executive or head chef in the kitchen. They oversee day-to-day operations and assist with menu planning and staffing. 

A sous chef role is to ensure that all dishes are prepared correctly and efficiently, paying close attention to detail and presentation.

What Does a Sous Chef Do?

A sous chef plays an essential role in the culinary world, taking on various responsibilities that contribute to a seamless kitchen operation. As the second-in-command in a professional kitchen, the sous chef works closely with the head chef, executing their creative vision while managing and overseeing the entire culinary team.

To ensure that each dish meets the highest quality standards, the sous chef actively participates in preparing and presenting menu items. Their attention to detail and culinary expertise ensure consistency in flavor, appearance, and overall dining experience.

A key part of the sous chef's role involves training and mentoring junior staff members. They provide guidance and instruction in various cooking techniques, TCS food safety procedures, and kitchen etiquette, fostering a positive and efficient work environment for all team members.

Additionally, the sous chef takes on an active role in managing kitchen inventory, placing orders for supplies, and maintaining proper food storage practices. This not only ensures that the kitchen remains well-stocked but also contributes to reducing restaurant food waste and maintaining cost efficiency.

In the head chef’s absence, the sous chef confidently assumes full responsibility for the kitchen, making executive decisions and ensuring the team continues operating at peak performance. The sous chef’s dedication, passion, and leadership skills are crucial to the restaurant’s overall success.

Sous Chef Salary: How Much Does a Sous Chef Make?

It is essential to determine the average pay scale to determine if this job is a good fit for individuals aspiring to become sous chefs.

Our comprehensive research on the average sous chef salary in the United States, involving multiple sources, indicates that the average salary is $49,652, according to Salary.com. The salary range usually falls between $42,819 and $58,449 as of March 28, 2023.

ZipRecruiter reports that six states pay sous chefs above the national average salary. This list reveals that Washington boasts the highest average annual salary of $59,719, followed by New York with $55,806 and Idaho with $54,364. Idaho beats the national average with a salary that's 6.7% higher, while Washington sets the standard even higher with another $8,763 (17.2%) above the $50,956.

Glassdoor estimated that a sous chef earns a total pay of $44,374 per year in the United States area, with an average annual salary of $41,278.

From the above data, it is clear that a sous chef earns a decent salary. The average salary falls between $40-60k. However, the salary can be higher based on the individual’s experience and performance. It is also clear that the sous chef salaries vary significantly in different states, and it's essential to research the location's pay scale while looking for employment opportunities.


How to Become a Sous Chef

Embark on an exciting and rewarding culinary journey as you follow these comprehensive steps to master the art of becoming a successful sous chef in the competitive world of professional cooking.

Step 1: Cultivate Your Culinary Passion and Language

Ignite your culinary arts and language passion by exploring diverse cuisines, cooking techniques, and kitchen slang. Immerse yourself in the food world by engaging with cookbooks, culinary shows, and food blogs that also introduce you to various culinary terms. Build a strong foundation by practicing recipes and refining your kitchen skills while expanding your culinary vocabulary.

Step 2: Pursue Formal Education and Training

Enroll in a reputable culinary school or program to acquire essential knowledge and hands-on experience. A well-rounded education in culinary arts will teach you about food safety, preparation techniques, and flavor profiles. Completing a degree or certification will enhance your skills and boost your credibility in the industry.

Step 3: Gain Professional Experience

Start your journey by working in entry-level positions in restaurants, catering companies, or hotels. These opportunities will allow you to observe and learn from experienced chefs while honing your skills in various kitchen roles. Embrace every challenge and experience with enthusiasm and dedication.

Step 4: Master Time Management and Organization

Learn to efficiently manage your time and prioritize tasks in a fast-paced kitchen environment. Develop strong organizational skills by creating and maintaining systems for inventory, food preparation, and cleanliness. Mastering these abilities will help you seamlessly transition into the role of a sous chef.

Step 5: Strengthen Your Leadership and Communication Skills

Cultivate strong leadership qualities to guide and motivate your team members. Effective communication is key to fostering a harmonious kitchen environment. Listen attentively, give clear instructions, and remain open to feedback. As a sous chef, you must resolve conflicts and address concerns with professionalism and empathy.

Step 6: Network and Seek Mentorship

Connect with industry professionals and attend culinary events to expand your network. Find someone to mentor you, providing invaluable guidance and support throughout your career. By learning from seasoned chefs, you can gain insight into the intricacies of kitchen management and professional growth.

Step 7: Pursue a Sous Chef Position

Once you have acquired the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience, seek out sous chef opportunities in your desired setting. Tailor your resume to highlight your culinary achievements, and be prepared to demonstrate your competence and passion during interviews. Stay persistent and committed to your goal of becoming a successful sous chef.

By adhering to these steps and consistently aiming for excellence, you'll become proficient in the craft of being a sous chef.

How to Become a Certified Sous Chef

Embarking on a journey to become a certified sous chef requires dedication, time, and effort. The American Culinary Federation, Inc. (ACF) has outlined specific requirements for education and work experience to help you achieve this goal. Let’s break down the necessary steps to become a certified sous chef.

First, all aspiring certified sous chefs must have at least two years of experience supervising a shift or food station. This experience should be recent, within the past ten years, to ensure relevancy and up-to-date knowledge of industry standards.

Following that, you must meet one of the following educational qualifications:

  • Complete a high school diploma or GED and accumulate five years of entry-level culinary experience.
  • Complete 150 Continuing Education Hours (CEH) and acquire five years of entry-level culinary experience.
  • Obtain an ACFEF Culinary Arts Program Certificate and gain four years of entry-level culinary experience.
  • Earn an Associate's Degree in Culinary Arts and accumulate three years of entry-level culinary experience.
  • Complete the ACFEF Apprenticeship Program, which requires 4,000 hours of on-the-job training.

Along with satisfying the qualifications, you must also complete three compulsory courses to acquire certification as a sous chef, including:

  1. A 30-hour Nutrition course that underscores the importance of a healthy and balanced diet in the culinary industry.
  2. A 30-hour Food Safety & Sanitation course to ensure the highest standards of cleanliness and safety in the kitchen.
  3. A 30-hour Supervisory Management course to hone your leadership and managerial skills.

For those who finished any of these courses over five years ago, an 8-hour refresher course on each topic is necessary to ensure that their knowledge is still current. You can find these courses through ACF-approved providers or any academic institution.

If you adhere to these instructions and put forth the needed effort, you'll be en route to becoming a certified sous chef.

This prestigious certification will significantly enhance your career prospects, credibility, and earning potential. It also provides opportunities for networking, personal growth, and industry recognition.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Sous Chef

Are you looking to learn more about the role of a sous chef in the kitchen? We've created a list of frequently asked questions to assist you in better comprehending this pivotal role.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Sous Chef?

The time it takes to become a sous chef depends on various factors. While some chefs may advance quickly, others may take longer due to their current experience level. 

It is generally expected to work in a professional kitchen for 3 to 5 years before being promoted to sous-chef when starting out in the culinary profession.

This is because sous chefs need to have a comprehensive understanding of the kitchen, as well as leadership and management skills. 

Do You Need a Degree to Be a Sous Chef?

No degree is needed to pursue a career as a sous chef. Although some employers may prefer that candidates have a college degree, most sous chefs are hired based on their cooking experience rather than formal education. 

To become a sous chef, one must possess technical skills like knowledge of food safety and sanitation and general skills such as effective teamwork.

Many aspiring sous chefs choose to gain experience in entry-level cooking jobs, such as cook or line cook, before they apply for a sous chef position due to this reason.

These positions provide the opportunity to hone culinary skills, learn about kitchen management and become an expert in the food production process. Once aspiring sous chefs have gained enough experience to meet the position’s requirements, they can begin to apply for sous chef jobs.

How Many Sous Chefs Should a Restaurant Have?

The number of sous chefs a restaurant should have can vary depending on the size and type of restaurant kitchens. Generally, a small- to a medium-sized restaurant will have one sous chef. In order to keep up with the demands of production, a larger or higher volume restaurant may hire two or more sous chefs.

How Many Hours Does a Sous Chef Work?

A sous chef typically works for forty to sixty hours per week. This can include nights, weekends, holidays, and even some overtime. 

During peak business hours at the restaurant, the sous chef may need to work extended hours to ensure everything is running efficiently.

Is Sous Chef Higher than Chef de Partie?

A sous chef is often considered to be higher on the culinary ladder than a chef de partie. A sous chef is usually responsible for overseeing the kitchen and staff in the absence of the executive chef. In contrast, a chef de partie is responsible for managing a specific area within the kitchen.