What Is a Sous Chef?

We dive into what this type of cook does and give background on all the other traditional positions in a large restaurant kitchen.

September 16, 2021
Chef preparing food in restaurant kitchen


Chef preparing food in restaurant kitchen

Photo by: Westend61/Getty Images

Westend61/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

If you’re like many of our readers, you’ve watched a food show or two where the term "sous chef" is mentioned. Or maybe you remember a time when you cooking in your kitchen, and a dinner guest jokingly offered to be your sous chef. But what exactly is a sous chef? Is it a high up position kitchen or a low one? Read on for the details of what the job entails.

Smiling chef preparing dinner ingredients at workstation in restaurant kitchen


Smiling chef preparing dinner ingredients at workstation in restaurant kitchen

Photo by: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

What Is a Sous Chef?

A sous chef is a person who works in a kitchen and reports directly to the chef de cuisine or executive chef. They have worked their way up to the position either in the restaurant where they are the sous chef or in another restaurant. By the time a cook becomes a sous chef, they should have mastered the techniques necessary to cook all of the dishes served in the restaurant. Plus, they should know how to use and in some cases do minor repairs the equipment in the kitchen.

What Does Sous Chef Mean?

Sous chef is French for under-chief in the kitchen. The chief is either the executive chef or the chef de cuisine. Sous chefs are above all of the other cooks in the kitchen and they speak for the chef, commanding the same respect that the chef has earned.


Photo by: Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

What Does a Sous Chef Do?

On a daily basis, a sous chef keeps the kitchen running smoothly. This includes being responsible for ordering the ingredients for the restaurant, maintaining the order and cleanliness of the kitchen, keeping all of the cooks on task and teaching them new menu items and techniques. In many cases, they are responsible for the order and discipline in the kitchen, making recommendations and giving progress reports on cooks to the chef. Sous chefs have responsibilities to the chef, the resaurant and to themselves. They need to be constantly upgrading their skills so that they can step into the executive chef position when the chef is away or leaves for another job. When they get to executive chef-level of expertise and confidence, they can either stay where they are and be a true leader in the kitchen or they can follow the dream of becoming the chef de cuisine in their own kitchen and start the cycle again when they train the next generation of sous chefs.

In a small restaurant there may not be the need for a sous chef. The chef is probably the owner and works all the time to make a go of it, and there aren’t enough people working at any one time for the head chef to need a sous chef. In a large restaurant where everything is made in house, from the stocks to the bread to the salad dressing and ice cream, there may be a few sous chefs to cover all of the shifts on all of the days they’re open, and to allow for people to have a day off.

What Are the Qualifications for a Sous Chef?

In order to become a sous chef, a cook should know how to cook every single menu item, be able to step in and replace anyone cooking on the line in case of an emergency and be able to step into the top position if the chef de cuisine is not in the kitchen. They should have the experience working every single station in the kitchen, be highly organized and be familiar with ordering and cost analysis for the entire menu. A sous chef should also be a good teacher, because they usually train the new kitchen staff. They often expedite during service (call out to each cook when to start cooking the food so that all of the orders for a single table come up at the same time) and are the last person to see the food before it goes to the dining room. They are the quality control experts.

Chef preparing dish at restaurant


Chef preparing dish at restaurant

Photo by: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

What Are the Chef Ranks?

The chef ranks in the kitchen are based on a hierarchical system that dates back to the time of Auguste Escoffier. Based on the French military system, the names of the positions indicate a chain of command with branches.

Executive Chef: head chef, could be in charge of one or a group of restaurants, typically has a financial stake in the group.

Chef de Cuisine: runs the kitchen of a single restaurant

Sous Chef: under chef

Chef de partie: each chef de partie oversees a station and is responsible for cooking all of the items coming from that station. In the past, there were many stations in the kitchen of a large restaurant.

  • Saucier: makes the sauté dishes
  • Poissonnier: cooks fish and shellfish
  • Roisseur: roasts and braises
  • Grillardin: works the grill and broiler (salamander in a professional kitchen)
  • Friturier: cooks everything is the deep fryer
  • Entremetier: makes vegetable side dishes, eggs and soups
  • Tournant: is an all around cook, can step in and help anywhere
  • Garde Manger: prepares cold food including salads and cold appetizers
  • Boucher: butchers for the restaurant
  • Patissier: does the baking, pastry, breadmaking, and ice cream making

Commis chef: each commis works under a chef de partie to learn the techniques

Aboyeur: expediter, calls out the dishes needed and gets them on the trays for the waiters

What Is a Sous Chef Salary?

The average salary for a sous chef in the U.S. is $45,000 a year. Depending on the area, the average can go to as low as $26,000 in Wyoming to $60,000 a year in wealthy urban areas such as Seattle and New York City.

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