or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Exec. Chef vs Sous Chef. Differences?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Exec. Chef vs Sous Chef. Differences?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
So I graduate culinary school in november with my assoicates degree from a well known school. Basicly my thoughts are that I want to go work for a well known busy restaurant that will beat my ***, however I feel that I have worked and payed my dues before college and now having a degree combined with working my way up in other restaurants I feel that I can take the next step up, which would be Sous.

So my question to all of you is as follows:

1. What is the main difference between an Exec chef and a sous?
2. When did you become a sous or a exec and where you ready or did you just jump into it and sank or swam?
3. What makes someone ready to become a sous or exec?

Thank you for your help/input! Its much appreciated. ;)
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
Reply
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
Reply
post #2 of 17
The main difference is the Sous, or Executive Sous in some instances, is the second in command.
The buck stops with the Executive Chef, the Sous makes sure the Chef gets what he wants.

I'm not saying you couldn't run your own place, but I recommend at least one Sous position.
If you do that, keep an open eye to what the Exec. has piled on his/her shoulders.
I've enjoyed being a Sous far more than being an Exec., not to say I hate being in charge.
But you know how the proverbial stuff rolls downhill?
It is nice to have someone above you getting hit with it first.
Also, very nice to have someone you can bounce ideas off of, which isn't always there when you're the top dog.
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Reply
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Reply
post #3 of 17
I have to agree with jim about having someone to bounce idea's off of!

I would have been completely lost had it not been for my years as a sous to a very knowledgeable chef. Yes I was dropped into both of my first sous, and executive positions. I have spent a lot of time learning on the job. Im not sure I was completely ready for either job. I dont know that their is a golden moment when one is ready to be a chef. You just have to keep striving to improve your game.

As a sous I assumed most of the day to day running of the kitchen and waitstaff. As well as running the catering aspect of the place. As an exec, I have to tend with much more inventory and cost of goods.(And Stuff Breaking) Things I only touched on as a sous! Just my thoughts

tyler
post #4 of 17
If you're the sous and you screw up, the (good) exec already has a backup plan. If you're the exec and you screw up, there is no backup plan. If you're the sous and can't come up with an idea, you can talk to the exec. If you're the exec and can't come up any ideas, you look silly. If you're the sous, "food cost" is only something that you're mildly aware. If you're the exec, "food cost" is something you can recite better than the pledge of allegience.

Seriously though, the basic thing is that the sous acts as the exec whenever exec isn't around, be it that he's off that day, in another part of the kitchen, whatever. A good relationship with similar culinary outlooks and open lines of communication between an exec and a sous will make the restaurant as a whole that much better. If you're a sous, don't try to undermine the exec about anything when he's not around, instead discuss it behind closed doors and try to reach the best solution to any problem. If you're an exec, make sure you pick a sous that you can work with easily and whom you can trust.

The first time I was a sous, I was mostly ready. It's likely because the job didn't entail much more than being a quality line cook and teaching others how to be the same with some mild ordering duties. The exec slowly gave me more responsibility and gave advice about how to handle it. He eased me into the position. I had never been in that spot before, and he made me comfortable with it. I'll never thank him enough for it. The first time I became exec was when the formerly mentioned exec moved a few hundred miles away. That was mostly sink or swim. Thankfully, he had taught me a lot and I didn't do too bad. The first month I was doing over 65 hours a week trying to get everything together, but eventually cut it to about 50. Efficiency is key, timing of when to do certain things is key, trust in your new sous is key. I picked up the first two quickly, but the last one was trouble. The owner picked my sous for me, and while he was a great cook, he was never able to fully grasp the more managerial aspects of it. Such is life.

Ready to become a sous depends on the restaurants. Volume will be a big part of how much responsibility you have. A restaurant that seats 40 will be a lot easier than one that seats 100, even more so than the numbers indicate. Just be able to cook, able to motivate, and able to correct mistakes in a way that people will learn and not feel resentful.

On the other hand, I don't think anything prepares you to be an exec other than decades of experience. Strong math and statistics ability will help, as well as the abilities for a sous. It's tough to keep your employees happy and motivated, satisfy the owner, gauge your pars for each individual item, create good specials, all while spending at least some quality time on the line. It's like you're forced to juggle when you never learned to juggle, but you'll eventually pick it up. After a while, it's second nature that you anticipate problems before the happen, and your staff will be in awe of you. That only helps to assert your authority in a nonconfrontational way, which is always good.
post #5 of 17
Sous is traditonally second in command, and in absence of The chef is in charge. Most sous become chef by either moving on or the chef leaves. Cooking is the least of what you need to know. You must be patient, flexable,fair, understanding,seek perfection and consistancy. The ability to develop a concept and carry it through to completion. Be totaly aware at all times of both food cost and labor cost and factors. The ability to teach and train others. Deadlines and timeing. All of the above is gained not by school, but by on the job training.
CHEFED
Reply
CHEFED
Reply
post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 
thank you guys. I heard everything I needed to hear. I graduate in November, I will be looking to get into a small restaurant as a Sous and see how it all rolls out. If all is well and Im there for a while and ready to take the next step, I think ill go out looking to see if a bigger restaurant with more tables is looking for a sous....and so on.

Again thank you for taking the time out of your busy lives to anwser me. Much appreciated.
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
Reply
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
Reply
post #7 of 17
I don't mean to offend, but the obvious response here is: If you have to ask that question, you're not ready to be a Sous Chef. There is nothing wrong with that.
A Sous Chef is an esteemed position, It means the Chef trusts you to act as he would in his absence -that does not come easy.

The things you need to do are:
1. Write-off my advice -because you think I don't know what I'm talking about
2. get a Sous Chef job and crash and burn miserable.
3. Realize the true scope of what you still have yet to learn in the kitchen
4. Then you pay your dues, learn, absorb, imitate, expound, and finally create.
5. Get a Sous Chef position at a reputable restaurant, and go on to become a Chef some day.

I'm sorry if I come off as harsh, Culinary School gives you all the tools you need to get your foot in the door, but your real education happens in the real kitchen. It's not all foams and fancy plates. there is a world of knowledge that only comes from experience, after 18 years I still study and learn every week -only in the last 5 years of my career do I feel like I have REALLY begun to learn what it means to become a Chef -and we are all still becoming Chefs.
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
Reply
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
Reply
post #8 of 17
Perhaps I'm misinterpreting your background prior to culinary school but, IMHO, unless you've worked your way up through the various stations in a restaurant atmosphere for, oh, at least 3-5 years AND you understand personnel management, inventory control, and business management OR you have an "inside track", you may be a trifle "optomistic" about landing a position as a "Sous Chef" directly out of school.
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #9 of 17
At the risk of turning into a curmudgeon (I'm a little too young for that), I think buonaboy hit the nail on the head... you've been working in the industry and gone to culinary school but aren't sure what the difference in roles between a sous chef and a head/executive chef are?

My personal philosophy is that crashing and burning is never an acceptable option, it is disrespectful to your employer and your superior, it shows a lack of effort on your part, and a general lack of understanding. You are on the dime of the owners and by willfully performing poorly you are losing them money and the trust they put upon you to be able to help run the kitchen... you might as well be giving them the finger. If there are things you don't know, then take the effort to learn it on your own time or ask the chef for assistance.

You're still a young man, and you can wait a year or two before getting a sous position. I would recommend you take the time to shake off those school-induced cobwebs, get back in the saddle first and use the opportunity to build links at your restaurant and I can say with confidence that if you do well, show them what you're made of, and continue to grow you will become a sous chef.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
Reply
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
Reply
post #10 of 17
Yes, that's a better way to put it, -sometimes I get a little carried away with "dramatic effect"
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
Reply
nel maiale, tutto e buono!
Reply
post #11 of 17
So you think you are ready to become a sous? Ask yourself these questions can I out cook all the cooks on any station? Can I make pastries and desserts? How are my butchering skills? Sauce making skills? How are my leadership abilities? How creative are you and are those creations truly good? Do you have enough knowledge to fix problems ie. do you know how to fix a broken hollandaise, how do you fix (and can you) fix a veal demi that is over reduced, etc.? Are you a strong enough cook to work a station and save the grill guy whose in the weeds at the same time? These are all questions, plus a hundred more that you need to ask yourself before you are ready. There had better only be one stronger cook than you and that is the Executive chef. So do you have the experience, the knowledge and the skills to pull it off? Seriously ask yourself. I had about 6 years experience before going to culinary school and I still didn't take my first sous until a number of years after culinary school. It took me that long to gain all the skills I needed to become a successful sous chef. Successful is the key word here. I know many kids who took their first sous job well before they were ready, and it was a miserable experience for them. Most of them either went back to being a cook or got so "chewed up" that they left the field altogether.

As for the difference between a sous and an Exec., well, very simply put the Exec deals with the big picture while the sous handles most of the day to day S**t to free up the Exec to deal with the big picture.
http://www.onceachef.com/ is my personal blog where I share many recipes, my passion for cooking, and all things food.
Reply
http://www.onceachef.com/ is my personal blog where I share many recipes, my passion for cooking, and all things food.
Reply
post #12 of 17
Ah youth. It was once said it was wasted on the young.

Great insight here so far. Leadership, abilities, experience.....how about depth? What have you seen and had to work through that makes you believe you're ready? What or how many disasters, near disasters, shortages in staff, missing orders, lost bookings or 500 cover banquets have you had to pull out of your arse or even just experienced as a player?

There are a couple things I'd like to add to the mix.

First off it's great to have self confidence but, don't over due it. I don't know too many seasoned Execs that will put up it..... especially those that have realistically "Paid their Dues" and I know I wouldn't. Secondly, I happen to agree very strongly that if you don't know the difference between the two positions........you are definitely not ready and if you walked into my kitchen with the approach that you are ready because you "paid your dues" before culinary school.....I'd immediately say to myself you weren't in the correct club and you'd have a 50/50 shot that I'd either send you packing or I'd ask you to work a Friday night for 3 hours just to see if you are all that. I have no idea how old you are or what your experience was prior to "school" but I'd have to guess that 2-3 years playing line cook before you decided to get serious is a far cry from having your name and reputation on the line.

In My humble Professional Opinion..... Please take a step back. Not saying it won't or can't happen but because of current industry conditions, you're going to be competing for a job against folks that have far greater credentials than yourself. Stop and think about how you want to proceed, be viewed and attain a chance to get your foot in the door.

Chances are you're not going to land the Sous position unless you held the position, or at the least a lead, before school. And as far as Exec?!?!? Unless you graduated at the very top of your class and have in hand, letters of recommendation from Henry Haller, Jean Banchet and Thomas Keller.......good luck! There are a good many people that can BS their way into just about anything but not in the climate we see today.

Maybe it's not a bad idea to first cut your teeth by taking a job in a decently busy place for a not so well known Chef. Learn the ropes of what it's like to really run a kitchen. Give it a year or two and then make a move up. If you were promoted while there, that's gravy on top and adds to the resume'. Believe me when I say this, It's all from experience and having made some Gawd awful, almost career ending decisions over the course of my career..... it's worth it!

I do wish you the best of luck no matter how any of what I have said sounds.

Oh yeah, there is one last thing that I can add from experience.....the major difference I found is that one position you mention, and for lack of a better description let's call that person the "Pin Cushionee". The other position for lack of a better description is the "Pin Cushioner". Again I say this from what would now be 31 years of experience.:look:
post #13 of 17
Thread Starter 
I have, Im 20 years old. I started working my first job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant when I was 14. I worked my way up to Saucier (worked every station in between) and than had to stop to attend college. I am really good with people, I have a great understanding as it is with personnel management and inventory controll as well as business mangement which I am currently taking classes to furter my understanding of all three. I have an understanding of what a sous is responsible for but the main reason I asked was to see when you all stepped up, what it took and what you all went through to get there, if you crashed or if you rocked with flying colors.

I understand that I need to work my way up and Im not looking to step into an exec position right out of college becasue I know I will burn fast. I understand its not just a matter of having to work your way up but a show of respect to the other kitchen staff members.

I totaly agree with this as well ^

But thank you again for all of your input. :cool:
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
Reply
"Some of us Cook. Some of us Grow. All of us Eat."
Reply
post #14 of 17
I disagree, unfortunately. With the economy in the crapper many shortsighted business owners are looking for ways to cut costs and it is often at the expense of the well seasoned, experienced Executive Chef. They replace this guy/gal with a fresh from school culinary grad and save themselves thousands of dollars in salary, not really thinking of the long term (and yes it is happening, 2 of my good friends both recently loss their jobs to younger, inexperienced grads because of money, and both these guys were not shoemakers, they were excellent chefs). Believe me, any recent culinary grad could make out in the short term, but it really is the long term that is the issue here. It is much easier to pay your dues up front then take a big paying job, blow it, and then have to go back to the trenches to gain more experience. Don't forget to look at the long range in favor of short range rewards, you'll will end up limiting yourself.
http://www.onceachef.com/ is my personal blog where I share many recipes, my passion for cooking, and all things food.
Reply
http://www.onceachef.com/ is my personal blog where I share many recipes, my passion for cooking, and all things food.
Reply
post #15 of 17
Pete,
I totally understand what you are saying though and could not disagree in the least. I've seen it in other careers and, in the past, have experienced it myself.....from all sides. ;) You definitely make some good, additional points too.:cool:

Just to explain.....I was looking at it from the perspective that even the well seasoned will be using the "any port in the storm" thought process, as that's what I'd be doing if that were the case. If, as a seasoned Chef, I found myself faced with the prospect of making no money and living in a van down by the river or taking a job at a reduced rate......... the prior would not be an option so the reduced rate wins. :look:
post #16 of 17
Just to put my two cents worth in:

When you make that step up to a sous chef role, be aware that not all sous chef roles are the same. A sous chef in a small, local restaurant won't have nearly the responsibility as a sous chef in a large hotel, for example. Sounds to me like you may be able to handle the small restaurant scenario but sometimes it is better (and will inevitably pay the dividends in the future) to take a step that appears downward on paper, such as to a CDP role in a large, busy restaurant or hotel, to round off your experience base.

Only you (or your Exec) will truly know when you are ready for a Sous Chef role. A challenge is good in our lives but keep it realistic.

Happy cheffing and all the best for what I'm sure promises to be an exciting career!
Kiwisizzler's blog

Good food is food that tastes of what it is!
Reply
Kiwisizzler's blog

Good food is food that tastes of what it is!
Reply
post #17 of 17
In my opinion, if you've worked in restaurants since 14 years old and attended culinary school and you still don't fully understand the difference between sous chef and exec. chef, you are ready for neither. The best thing to do would be getting a job that allows you to work closely with the sous to understand his job and then go from there.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Professional Chefs
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Exec. Chef vs Sous Chef. Differences?