The top position in a commercial kitchen is the executive chef. Under the executive chef are the sous chefs. The sous chef is often the most hands-on cook in the kitchen. Below the sous chefs are other kitchen workers such as prep cooks, line chefs and dishwashers. Hands-on experience will hone your chef skills and put you in a position to become a sous chef.
Shadow the current sous chefs in your restaurant. Watch them closely but do not get in their way or they will not want you around. Have the sous chefs show you what they do on a daily basis. Observe the most successful chefs to see how they manage their workstation, manage the timing of food preparation on the line, and supervise prep and other line cooks. Additionally, observe how they support the executive chef. This observation will give you a picture of the skills needed to be promoted to sous chef.
Get mentored by the executive chef in your restaurant. Act as a resource to him so you can spend time with him. The executive chef has years of experience in all areas of the kitchen. Ask to assist with inventory ordering, basic prep, and maintenance of safety and cleanliness of the kitchen. Show the executive chef an eagerness to learn new cooking skills. If he recognizes your ability and initiative, he may agree to mentor you and show you have to run a successful kitchen. This will help in your quest up the career ladder.
Ask to take on more cooking and food prep responsibilities. Improve your cooking skills by cooking new dishes, adjusting the flavors and ingredients until you perfect them, and working on your plate presentation. Offer to work as many hours as you can, and assist on off-site catering jobs, if they are available. Make yourself invaluable as someone who can step in when others call out. Once you have improved your cooking abilities, you’ll be able to slide into the sous chef role.
Get formal training through a culinary or vocational school. Obtain a degree or certification as chef. In school, you will learn not only the basics of cooking and food chemistry, but knife skills, management skills, proper food storage, cooking temperatures and safety standards. Get your ServSafe certification, which shows you have knowledge in food safety, and is required by many food establishments.
Read industry trade magazines. As trends are always changing in the food business, this will help you learn new things about the industry and stay on top of the innovations. You’ll also become familiar with industry terminology, leading food purveyors and kitchen equipment manufacturers.
Francine Richards is a licensed multi-state insurance agent with years of human resources and insurance industry experience. Her work has appeared on Blue Cross Blue Shield websites and newsletters, the Houston Chronicle and The Nest. Richards holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the University of Maryland.