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Questions for all Sous and Exec chefs

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

 For all of you chefs out there, how long did it take you to reach your position? How did you end up in your position?

post #2 of 18
Started as a dishwasher at 15, line cook at 18, Sous at 26, Exec at 32. 17 years total for me. I have been working for a growing hotel company that has expanded from 2 properties to 12 over the past 6 years and worked my way up the ladder with them to where I am now the exec at a 96 room hotel. I always say attitude is 90% of success. If people don't enjoy working with or for you than no matter how good your skills are it won't matter. I got a combination of right place right time, lots of long days, weeks etc. and always kept learning and smiling while doing it.
post #3 of 18
Started at 13 in 1978. Took my first head chef job in 1989, too soon, struggled but succecede. Opened my first business in 2002. Sold it in 2005 when I moved to Sweden. Opened my first business here in 2007. Opened 4 restaurants over the years plus worked as an ex chef at the same time. Sold one restaurant in 2011, opened a new contract food and catering company a couple months ago. So the position as owner too me 22 years. Exchef, 11 years. How did I get to my position, brains, hardwork, dilligence, talent, and a fair amount of b***s**t. And I make it a point to listen and hear everything everyone says.
post #4 of 18

From dishwasher to executive sous in 2 and half years. Just turned 23 and started when I was 20-21.

 

Went to a community college culinary program (which was a joke by the way) and did 2 semesters. Dropped out, couldn't get a cooking job without experience. Worked for free as a dishwasher full time (not kidding, 40 hours a week uncompensated washing dishes and cleaning) for a month then got a paying job on garde manger. Struggled, but did work my way up slowly. In the meantime I spent a lot of time staging in other restaurants, particularly in high-end ones and reading culinary textbooks. Staging really helped me a lot, it pays off trust me. I learned so many more techniques and being exposed to new things really opens up your abilities as a stage. Got a job as a line cook in a casual place and was quickly promoted to sous. Even talking about becoming executive chef in the next 6 months or so.

 

I think I did it so quick because of my work ethic (staging for free, NEVER saying no to doing extra, never calling in sick and always trying my hardest), food knowledge and an opportunity opened up. I came in on a mission at my current place knowing that a sous position would open up soon and the hard work payed off. IMO it would have never happened without staging, it taught me so much. The dedication will pay off someday, I finally see it now after a lot of frustration and struggles.
 

post #5 of 18

No offense linecook...but 2 1/2 years?

These days I see so many titles thrown around (check CL)...."prep chef", really?

 

To the OP: My official title now is "dinner cook", my position is actually chef de cuisine as I manage a staff, write, and cost menus, as well as cook. But I currently work for a non-profit and they roll by a standard that keeps their costs down by dumbing down the position.

 

I think it depends on where you want to align your career, you could hit the title a lot faster working for a chain like Olive Garden or Chile's...But then you get in a real kitchen and will have your a$$ handed to you on a spoon.

 

I climbed the ladder fairly fast I feel, and was an exec by 27 of a four star restaurant. I was lucky to have worked in some amazing places and was willing to put in the time for it. I've been involved w/ three 5-star establishments, as sous or exec sous...big boost.

 

I also turned down some crazy good offers from very well known people in the industry, but it wasn't where I wanted my career to be at the time (...In hindsight........No, LA's still a $hithole. Ny, no thanks, not for me. Atlantic City, no. LV, big no).

 

I semi-retired in my mid thirties (good stock broker), but then I got married and had a kid (not necessarily in that order)...money got sucked away, and now have to start over-ish, and it's not easy. I'm "over-under" qualified.

 

Chef-ing is more than cooking, and more than managing. There's a balance. To me, it's not how fast you get there, it's how well you get there.

To each their own. Are you after a title? Or the knowledge and work involved to know that you actually earned that title?

You know you're not a "chef" when you get out of school, right?

post #6 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by ShutUpandCook View Post

No offense linecook...but 2 1/2 years?

These days I see so many titles thrown around (check CL)...."prep chef", really?

 

To the OP: My official title now is "dinner cook", my position is actually chef de cuisine as I manage a staff, write, and cost menus, as well as cook. But I currently work for a non-profit and they roll by a standard that keeps their costs down by dumbing down the position.

 

I think it depends on where you want to align your career, you could hit the title a lot faster working for a chain like Olive Garden or Chile's...But then you get in a real kitchen and will have your a$$ handed to you on a spoon.

 

I climbed the ladder fairly fast I feel, and was an exec by 27 of a four star restaurant. I was lucky to have worked in some amazing places and was willing to put in the time for it. I've been involved w/ three 5-star establishments, as sous or exec sous...big boost.

 

I also turned down some crazy good offers from very well known people in the industry, but it wasn't where I wanted my career to be at the time (...In hindsight........No, LA's still a $hithole. Ny, no thanks, not for me. Atlantic City, no. LV, big no).

 

I semi-retired in my mid thirties (good stock broker), but then I got married and had a kid (not necessarily in that order)...money got sucked away, and now have to start over-ish, and it's not easy. I'm "over-under" qualified.

 

Chef-ing is more than cooking, and more than managing. There's a balance. To me, it's not how fast you get there, it's how well you get there.

To each their own. Are you after a title? Or the knowledge and work involved to know that you actually earned that title?

You know you're not a "chef" when you get out of school, right?


No offense taken, but yes I am really the executive sous as is my title, job description and compensation. I manage food costs, hire and fire personnel, create menus every season, in charge of all day to day operations and source from purveyors, I think that makes me a legitimate executive sous and not a "craigslist chef". I don't think it's the amount of experience you have but the amount work ethic, intelligence and cooking talent. Yes I am not perfect and I have much to learn but I give a 100% each and every minute I'm in a kitchen.

post #7 of 18

I am just curious about the designation of executive sous chef as opposed to sous chef. What is the difference between the two? I usually think of executive sous chef positions being in operations with numerous outlets such as hotels, casinos, and cruise ships. The ACF doesn't have a have a certification for executive sous chef, the ones that they do list are:

 

Certified Sous Chef® (CSC®): A chef who supervises a shift or station(s) in a foodservice operation. Equivalent job titles are sous chef, banquet chef, garde manger, first cook, a.m. sous chef and p.m. sous chef.

Certified Chef de Cuisine® (CCC®): A chef who is the supervisor in charge of food production in a foodservice operation. This could be a single unit of a multi-unit operation or a free-standing operation. He or she is in essence the chef of the operation with the final decision-making power as it relates to culinary operations.

Certified Executive Chef® (CEC®): A chef who is the department head usually responsible for all culinary units in a restaurant, hotel, club, hospital or foodservice establishment. In addition to culinary responsibilities, other duties include budget preparation, payroll, maintenance, controlling food costs and maintaining financial and inventory records.

 

What are other people's opinions?

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #8 of 18

Titles aren't regulated. I could see the title coming from a couple different situations, such as there being a "Chef-n-B" manager who is technically the F&B manager but also the executive chef, technically, and not having the time to be a real Exec Chef, creating a need for an expanded sous position that might be called "Executive Sous". I could also see the title in a kitchen with more than one sous chef, or more than one outlets that may have their own sous chef. You see this all the time in casinos, hotels and even larger country clubs, though in my experience they are all usually just called "sous chefs". I could see the use of "Executive Sous" though if you wanted to place one as the absolute #2 in charge.

 

Maybe Linecook could tell us what the "executive" part of his sous chef title means in his operation. From the duties, it sounds more like an "executive chef" in a smaller operation. Sounds to me like he might be in a bigger, multi-outlet or multi-unit operation.

Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

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Brandon O'Dell

 

Friend That Cooks Home Chef Service

www.friendthatcooks.com

O'Dell Restaurant Consulting

www.bodellconsulting.com

 

Reply
post #9 of 18

Here on the threads we have defined a "Chef" as being the person in charge or the boss of the kitchen.

I have been in the business for over 40 years and each place I have ever worked I could never understand the "title thing."

Each place has their own definition of the breakdown of workers and their titles to go with them.

I have worked along side people who have a title but don't have the skills of that title.

 

In larger corporations, titles are handed out like candy, and to me, are created for "ego boosters."


To Cheflayne........again......in corporations or larger venues the Executive Sous Chef is less hands on and more paper work,

whereas the Sous Chef is more hands on and less paper work. Titles are just that.

 

To the original OP.......I didn't take stock in the timeline of my career, I just tried to learn as much as I could from each place I worked.

I also worked to better myself in each position to grow and learn. I never took a job that didn't provide some kind of learning situation.

post #10 of 18
Quote:

Originally Posted by Chefross View Post

 

Titles are just that.

Here is an excerpt from a Craigslist ad:

Quote:

Executive Chef

Opening for a chef who can run the entire kitchen in a small restaurant. Must be able to prepare ALL meals from start to finish. This is a ONE person kitchen.

LOL. Who would you be exec over? Pretty small chain of command.

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chefross View Post

 

To Cheflayne........again......in corporations or larger venues the Executive Sous Chef is less hands on and more paper work,

whereas the Sous Chef is more hands on and less paper work. Titles are just that.

Couldn't agree more. Pretty much sympatico with my thoughts on the matter.


Quote:

Originally Posted by Chefross View Post

 

I have worked along side people who have a title but don't have the skills of that title.

I took my first sous chef position over 30 years ago. I was the skill/title mismatched person. I did well with the job but didn't deserve the title. It was an extreme disservice to actual sous chefs everywhere to pin that title on me. Words and titles get bandied about far too easily in this profession which is one reason the general public and even people working in the industry have no clue nor consensus on the whole concept of "Chef".

 

Every time I see an ad for a "sandwich chef", I cringe.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #11 of 18

Took me culinary school 3 years, 2 year apprenticship (one in Europe) about 6 years various positions in New York Hotels and clubs every position in kitchen except bakeer or pastry chef. Then Sous. Then Chef d Cuisine  then Exex about 11 years..... I did not want Exec job I liked to cook. forced into it.

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post #12 of 18
In my place there used to be a head chef, executive sous and a jr sous (more like a lead line cook really). In my place the executive part is to distinguish the two sous' from each other
post #13 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by linecook854 View Post
 


No offense taken, but yes I am really the executive sous as is my title, job description and compensation. I manage food costs, hire and fire personnel, create menus every season, in charge of all day to day operations and source from purveyors, I think that makes me a legitimate executive sous and not a "craigslist chef". I don't think it's the amount of experience you have but the amount work ethic, intelligence and cooking talent. Yes I am not perfect and I have much to learn but I give a 100% each and every minute I'm in a kitchen.

 

 

We can debate all day about what a "Chef' means, this is N.America, so everyone and his/her dog has a different idea.  And if we can debate all day over this, the "executive" part is even more up in the air.  However, for myself and most of those who have worked in corporate foodservice, "Executive Chef" means one who is in charge of multiple F & B outlets.

 

And while I agree with you on work ethics, intelligence, and cooking talent, experience DOES play a huge role in your management style. 

 

What I'd like to do is list several scenerios that I witnessed or took part in over my years in this business.  Good or bad it was experience and it prepared me for the next job, and also affected the way I think and plan ahead.

 

A)  Boss/ Fn'B/ owner walks up to you and asks you to prepare food for a dinner party at this house .  What do you do?

 

B) Walk-in cooler is blowing warm air, and the coil is all iced up.  Boss/Chef is on a long deserved holiday and has informed you NOT to spend one penny, not even buy a new rubber spatula or he'll create you a new sphincter muscle when he gets back.  You have about a thousand bucks of product and labour slowly growing warm in the walk in.  What do you do?

 

C) Trusted cook is walking kind a funny and stiffedlegged out of the store room and is headed out the building, you stop and ask him where he is going.  Reply:  "just to check up on my car".  What do you do?

 

D) Walk-in again, same scenerio but this time the fan is blowing warm air, no ice on the coil and both lines to the compressor are hot.  Oh, and I forgot to mention in scenerio "B" that refrig guys charge $80.00/hr PLUS truck fee, Plus parts, Plus taxes, and a minimum of one hour.  What do you do?

 

E) Fn'B again, or Boss, or whatever.  Face is the colour of a rotten strawberry and is demanding that immediately, you need to get your food cost down by %15.  He'll be checking the guest chits tonight, and you better be around for inventory.  a) Is this possible? b) If so, how?

 

 

Now, once you cross the dotted line you'll see my experiences.  Ready?

**********************************************************************************************************************

 

a) Watched a Sous lose his job over this one (I was a prep cook at the time) His mistake was not getting the boss to sign a reciept.  Everything that goes out of the kitchen needs a reciept.  It's up to accounting or the boss himself to see how much they pay for it, but you need a record.  If you have that, your butt is covered, if not, the Boss holds on to the incident like a coupon, instant grounds for firing.

 

b) Crapped my drawers over this one, had a party in the walk-in for the next day, but it was 11pm and no refrig guy would come out.  Last refrig guy I called told me to shut off the compressor, hose down the coil with a garden hose to melt off the ice, turn the compressor back on, and install curtains in the door and  not leave the door open for more than 5 minutes per hour.  Golden advice, and by this time I had over 10 years under my belt, in N.America, Europe, and Asia.....

 

c)  Be vewy vewy, caihfuw...  If you can get the guy too pull whatever he has down his pants out, and get back to work, great.  If not grab the boss or someone in a higher position and witness the guy get into his car.  Then fire his ass, NOT before.  I can walk around Mal*wart with a hundred bucks of merchandise in my pocket, but security can only arrest me once I  leave the premises.  A Union Rep would tear you to pieces if you fired the guy before he left the building, and even if he did, The Union rep would demand "No goods past this point" signs at every entrance.  I don't wish the experience of managing a Union kitchen on my worst enemy.  "Nuff said.....

 

d) This one's for real, call the repair guys.  There's a gas leak and you'll burn out the compressor if you don't get it fixed soon.

 

e) Yes it is possible, but not at your end.  No amount of cheese paring or cutting back on portions or quality will do the trick though.  Fn"B has to raise the menu prices tonight before service, pull out all the menus and make a fresh sheet with new prices.  Stupid, but do-able.  I left a week after the Boss made his 15% decrease demand....

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #14 of 18
Thread Starter 

thanks for input gents

post #15 of 18

Speaking of casinos....I was blown away at the scope and magnitude of these operations, their fire escapes are bigger than most dining rooms. I was offered a sous position w/ Trump, I met the exec chef, real old dude, personal secretary, he was actually working the (giant) butcher room (refrigerated) to set Thanksgiving for oh, about 5000 guests....walk-in OVENS....it's wild. He offered me my own restaurant, so in theory I would have been an exec chef as I ran the outlet as if it were mine, but in reality I worked under the exec, and his exec sous chefs in the bigger picture....as a sous chef.

He had 17 sous'

The outlet would have been my baby, my menus, my game...but that whole gig just freaked me out, and not really digging AC or Vegas, I declined.

 

The EC positions I have held in the past were "working chef" positions. I ran the books, and did the whole desk job part, but also cooked to fill in for my staff when they were off. It's a very strategic game plan, I could give two dudes the same day off on slow days and cover both of their positions on the line....It was hard to do at times, but I was able to pull labor into the mid 20's and still produce. I'm blessed w/ the route that I took and the establishments I have worked for....I have learned good technique as well as hard core number crunching.

 

 

I think this is going to turn into the "Craigslist thread".

 

Local: "Sushi Chef wanted. No experience needed, will train".

 

Titles are like a$$holes, everybody's got one.

post #16 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by foodpump View Post
 

 

 

We can debate all day about what a "Chef' means, this is N.America, so everyone and his/her dog has a different idea.  And if we can debate all day over this, the "executive" part is even more up in the air.  However, for myself and most of those who have worked in corporate foodservice, "Executive Chef" means one who is in charge of multiple F & B outlets.

 

And while I agree with you on work ethics, intelligence, and cooking talent, experience DOES play a huge role in your management style. 

 

What I'd like to do is list several scenerios that I witnessed or took part in over my years in this business.  Good or bad it was experience and it prepared me for the next job, and also affected the way I think and plan ahead.

 

A)  Boss/ Fn'B/ owner walks up to you and asks you to prepare food for a dinner party at this house .  What do you do?

 

B) Walk-in cooler is blowing warm air, and the coil is all iced up.  Boss/Chef is on a long deserved holiday and has informed you NOT to spend one penny, not even buy a new rubber spatula or he'll create you a new sphincter muscle when he gets back.  You have about a thousand bucks of product and labour slowly growing warm in the walk in.  What do you do?

 

C) Trusted cook is walking kind a funny and stiffedlegged out of the store room and is headed out the building, you stop and ask him where he is going.  Reply:  "just to check up on my car".  What do you do?

 

D) Walk-in again, same scenerio but this time the fan is blowing warm air, no ice on the coil and both lines to the compressor are hot.  Oh, and I forgot to mention in scenerio "B" that refrig guys charge $80.00/hr PLUS truck fee, Plus parts, Plus taxes, and a minimum of one hour.  What do you do?

 

E) Fn'B again, or Boss, or whatever.  Face is the colour of a rotten strawberry and is demanding that immediately, you need to get your food cost down by %15.  He'll be checking the guest chits tonight, and you better be around for inventory.  a) Is this possible? b) If so, how?

 

 

Now, once you cross the dotted line you'll see my experiences.  Ready?

**********************************************************************************************************************

 

a) Watched a Sous lose his job over this one (I was a prep cook at the time) His mistake was not getting the boss to sign a reciept.  Everything that goes out of the kitchen needs a reciept.  It's up to accounting or the boss himself to see how much they pay for it, but you need a record.  If you have that, your butt is covered, if not, the Boss holds on to the incident like a coupon, instant grounds for firing.

 

b) Crapped my drawers over this one, had a party in the walk-in for the next day, but it was 11pm and no refrig guy would come out.  Last refrig guy I called told me to shut off the compressor, hose down the coil with a garden hose to melt off the ice, turn the compressor back on, and install curtains in the door and  not leave the door open for more than 5 minutes per hour.  Golden advice, and by this time I had over 10 years under my belt, in N.America, Europe, and Asia.....

 

c)  Be vewy vewy, caihfuw...  If you can get the guy too pull whatever he has down his pants out, and get back to work, great.  If not grab the boss or someone in a higher position and witness the guy get into his car.  Then fire his ass, NOT before.  I can walk around Mal*wart with a hundred bucks of merchandise in my pocket, but security can only arrest me once I  leave the premises.  A Union Rep would tear you to pieces if you fired the guy before he left the building, and even if he did, The Union rep would demand "No goods past this point" signs at every entrance.  I don't wish the experience of managing a Union kitchen on my worst enemy.  "Nuff said.....

 

d) This one's for real, call the repair guys.  There's a gas leak and you'll burn out the compressor if you don't get it fixed soon.

 

e) Yes it is possible, but not at your end.  No amount of cheese paring or cutting back on portions or quality will do the trick though.  Fn"B has to raise the menu prices tonight before service, pull out all the menus and make a fresh sheet with new prices.  Stupid, but do-able.  I left a week after the Boss made his 15% decrease demand....

Thanks for the input.

 

Regardless of whether you think I am a "chef" or not I will not debate, I will let my employer decide that one.

 

Agreed, experience plays a huge part particularly in situations you don't expect. Every new sous or head starts somewhere, no one starts knowing all the answers. Live and learn. Judgement calls are something that you can't fake.

post #17 of 18

First started in restaurants at 16 as a pizza cook.  Also made soups and sandwiches.  Moved from there to my first "fine" dining place, which meant pantry bitch who didn't know the difference between brunoise or julienne.  I just like drinking with older dudes and flirting with the lovely lady servers. Plated desserts, made salads and a hot app.  

 

Culinary school at 20, line cook with Patina group in downtown LA at 21.  Sous chef at 23 (definitely tooooo soon).  Short stint at Wilshire in Santa Monica.

 

Needed a change and to get my butt kicked so I moved to NYC where I worked at Tabla for two and a half years working backward from PM meat roast, PM meat veg, PM fish, AM meat roast eventually to sous.  I'm about 26.

 

Took a break from restaurants to try and finish school...missed the life too much, so then I helped open concessions at the new CitiField in NYC for Union Square Hospitality Group.  Good experience, but it sucked hard.

 

Helped open Maialino in NYC as a lead line cook at 27ish.  Moved on to sous within months, stayed there for another year and a half. 

 

Moved to San Francisco and helped open another Roman Italian restaurant.  Eventually landed my first CDC job (which is basically an exec position).

 

It all takes time.  I've learned California cuisine, modern Indian, pasta making, pasta cooking, opened 4 restaurants.  These days people want to be chefs at 25, and yes it happens, but its not a deep understanding of food.  A 3 month stage at Noma and another one at Daniel doesn't make you a chef.

post #18 of 18
I was a line cook for eight years, and spent a few years running a prep crew during that stretch before becoming a Sousy- been there for three. Being a sous is dependant upon the Chef. Some Chefs treat you very well, some just use you like the prostitute you are. Don't get confused: all Sous' are prostitutes, some just get a better pimp. In my short career, I've seen Sous' that could have been excellent Execs working for Execs with their heads planted deeply 'twix their cheeks. I've worked for Sous' that couldn't handle the pressure of a school cafeteria on pizza day. Titles can help you get paid more in the short term, but in the long run, developing solid skills, maintaining a great attitude and being able to sell food for money consistently will allow you to succeed ( i.e. slave away in the kitchen for 94% of your adult life so that you can go on vacation and think about the kitchen the entire time). Do that a few times...
Then we'll call you a Chef, but not to your face. We'll call you horrid things to your face, but you'll know we mean "Chef".
The "Exec Sous" moniker is entirely helpful when someone needs to be held accountable for mistakes in the kitchen, regardless of who actually did it. The Exec Sous should be feared by everyone.
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