Anthony Bourdain says that being a Sous Chef is possibly one of the most stressful jobs in the entire world – and reading ‘Kitchen Confidential’ the story of how he became one of the world’s most respected chefs would tend to reinforce that view.
Being a Sous Chef is a job that only the most dedicated lover of food preparation could ever aspire to – it’s a job that requires immense patience, leadership ability and an iron will. A Sous Chef is very rarely in the limelight and will always be asked to do the heavy lifting as far as kitchen duty is concerned.
However, at the same time, it can be one of the most rewarding jobs in any professional kitchen.
As second in command to the Head or Executive Chef, a Sous Chef is the commander of any kitchen. It is the responsibility of the Sous Chef to take control of not only the day to day running of the kitchen, but also the functions of what makes any retail establishment tick over.
It is also the Sous Chef’s responsibility to ensure that the providers of the raw materials for the food arrive on time every day, and that can be a huge amount of pressure to manage. Actually coordinating all the raw materials for a menu on a daily basis is not an easy task. The stepping up to the hot plate, literally to oversee the preparation of dishes is something that many people who aspire to Head Chef jobs find very challenging.
The restaurant business is one that does not tolerate any sort of weakness – and a Sous Chef will have to be at the forefront of delivery.
This means that the Sous Chef has to be a complicated mix of both manager and chef. Imagine running a kitchen where you might have to deal with hiring and firing people, as well as making sure that the food that is presented to customers is of the highest quality and reaches the table in a timely manner – while still at the same time ensuring that the front of the house (the restaurant) runs like a well-oiled machine.
This requires a person that is not only well versed in food preparation, but also an individual who can be a human resources manager, a logistics expert and also a chef who is intimately familiar with the preparation of exceptional meals.
This video gives a flavour of the role of a sous chef and the personal qualities required to be successful in a busy commercial kitchen.
The only way that a Sous Chef will be able to reach the lofty heights of their position is to be intimately familiar with how a kitchen works. They would have worked from apprentice or Commis Chef through each of the different sections of the kitchen to reach their current position. If an aspirant chef wants to achieve the heights Michelin stars or rosettes that can be displayed outside their own restaurant, they will usually have to earn their stripes by being a Sous Chef before they can reap the accolades and column inches in the newspaper.
As Anthony Bourdain says, this is not a job for people who are easily insulted and who cannot take the rough and tumble of day to day restaurant management. Being a Sous Chef is hard work in an environment which will test you every single day. It requires the utmost discipline and will test even the most resilient of human beings. It’s not fun – however, the rewards can be immense. The challenge is whether you have the absolute iron will to be the best in the business. It’s all about the love of food – the question is whether you have that absolute devotion.