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Sous Chef Issue

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

Anyone have advice on how to deal with a sous chef who tends to make me feel unwelcome in my own kitchen? I have a small restaurant with room for only 4 chefs at a time. One of my two sous is good at her job, though she tends to make me feel unwelcome in my own kitchen or regularly question my authority. Not even sure she realizes she is doing it, but it's like a power struggle or something.

 

My staff and I are all around the same age, but I am the exec chef and restaurant owner, so my plate is extremely full. We don't abide by a rigid brigade system, but I expect and deserve respect as the chef and owner. I appreciate having sous who are able to manage the daily kitchen operations in my absence, but I need to feel welcome in my own kitchen at the very least.

 

Any suggestions for how to deal with this? I am sick of feeling anxious every time I go into work knowing she is there. We are supposed to be a team, and I shouldn't feel uncomfortable working with her. I don't want to make things more awkward by bringing it up, and I'm not sure the best way to do it. 

post #2 of 25

Confrontation even with good intentions is never easy but avoidance can lead to more disastrous results which many times cannot be mended.

Sit down with her and tell her pretty much what you told us.

Quote:
One of my two sous is good at her job, though she tends to make me feel unwelcome in my own kitchen or regularly question my authority. Not even sure she realizes she is doing it,...We are supposed to be a team, and I shouldn't feel uncomfortable working with her. I don't want to make things more awkward by bringing it up, and I'm not sure the best way to do it.

 

Ask for her ideas, input, and help in rectifying the situation.

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 #3 of 25

Stop calling them Chefs for one thing as they are not. You are the only Chef there and they are simply cooks.

post #4 of 25

RMEMBER one thing, They wok for you  you  are the  boss.. They are  cooks only and I a small

operation you don't need all sous'

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #5 of 25
Thread Starter 

Thanks, I need to work on my chef boss thing, which can be difficult as we are all the same age and my resume isn't super long. 

 

Not all my cooks are sous chefs, I have two who split the week in managing the kitchen and the other cooks (we are open every day), so that I am no longer chained to the stove as I was the first few years.

 

The kitchen is where I am happiest... as long as I'm not stressed about the mountain of paperwork and billing I need to get to.

post #6 of 25

I seem to get my best results when I use the mindset of getting people to work with me rather than for me by attempting to use influence and example, as opposed to authority. If that doesn't yield the results that I want, then I remind them that they do indeed work for me. If that doesn't sink in, then they don't work for me.

 

Quote: Abraham Lincoln
 No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent. —Abraham Lincoln
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 #7 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chefross View Post
 

Stop calling them Chefs for one thing as they are not. You are the only Chef there and they are simply cooks.

 

everybody at The French Laundry is called chef, even at the commis level. But i know what you were trying to say and you're right, OP is the boss.

post #8 of 25

I'm with Chef Ross, I think calling anyone that cooks food in a pro kitchen "chef" is a bit hill billy. I think if someone is making you uncomfortable in your kitchen, the solution is to not feel uncomfortable.

post #9 of 25

I think you first need to make a solid decision whether or not this is acceptable to you in the long run,

say over the next 2 years, or if it's something you need to rectify. If you  need to change it, you alone as

owner have the power to do so. She may work "with you" but she still works FOR you--if she thinks she

has, or is trying to assert, power of some kind then she is conning her own ego.

And its up to you to set the record straight for all concerned.

The next time she's in an unusually superior mood and  pulls something you can actually point to, tell her you

and her need a meeting. I think this may be a validation/prestige problem with her, in fact her "get out of my kitchen" air when youre around might well be masking lack of confidence when youre closeby watching.

So you might start out positive, pointing out her value to you. Then tell her you sense some resentment, etc.

And cite examples. You might remind her that its up to her to to do the adjusting, its your place not hers.

If all that fails, why not start looking for a cook with both skill AND a good attitude?

 

I'm also curious--where did she get her initial training? I sense a long-ago spoiled culinary student lurking

in their somewhere.

post #10 of 25

I think ego is a big issue in our line of work. But as your sous expects to have her title respected, she should respect yours too. I would have a talk  with her. This will help her personal and professional development. Part of the sign of a great chef is whom he has groomed to succeed. IF she is that good, have her help with the next menu development cycle, have her take more of a mentoring role for the prep and line cooks. IF she's a mentor, her ego will be stroked and she'll be happy and the added responsibility of a mentor will tone down her attitude. She is not going to work for you forever. When she is working at her new kitchen, her skill set and attitude will reflect your kitchen to the new kitchen, to the industry and maybe to savvy foodies that follw chefs.

It is your kitchen, and she needs to defer to you and if she dissents, she needs to do so with respect.
Is she that great as a chef or that great as a leader in prep or on the line that she is worth putting up with this? if so, then grin and gear it. Even if you are too sensitive, the success of the business might be worth a bit of discomfort if you're also the owner. You can cry all the way to the bank if she's that good.


I saw other people post about whether the staff are cooks or chefs. Without knowing more, this is a VERY good point. If you have 4 cooks, and you're the exec, maybe one other person might be a chef. The others are probably cooks. If you've got a bigger staff of 20 cooks, you might have 1-2 more that have a title. An exception might be if you expect the front of house to have proper respect for

IF the anecdote about French Laundry is true. You'd probably have to be a real chef in a real restaurant even to interview to be a commis at French Laundry. MANY chefs I know would be happy to be a pot washer there. I would if I could afford to do it.
 If Keller (or you) wants to call a commis a chef in his kitchen, that's his (your) choice no matter what the rest of us say. But we have good intentions by giving you the advice we did.

And a commis at French Laundry, probably DOES have the skill set to be called chef at any other place on the planet. The other reason might be the respect that is owed by the front of house. Front of house should worship the ground even a commis walks on. And it may be that Keller enforces that. The guy that cooks rice at Sukiyabashi Jiro could be a master in any kitchen on the planet.

 

post #11 of 25

QUOTE......"IF the anecdote about French Laundry is true. You'd probably have to be a real chef in a real restaurant even to interview to be a commis at French Laundry. MANY chefs I know would be happy to be a pot washer there. I would if I could afford to do it.
 If Keller (or you) wants to call a commis a chef in his kitchen, that's his (your) choice no matter what the rest of us say. But we have good intentions by giving you the advice we did.

And a commis at French Laundry, probably DOES have the skill set to be called chef at any other place on the planet. The other reason might be the respect that is owed by the front of house. Front of house should worship the ground even a commis walks on. And it may be that Keller enforces that. The guy that cooks rice at Sukiyabashi Jiro could be a master in any kitchen on the planet."

 

 

 

I do believe that the people who cook for The French Laundry come from all walks of life, and don't all have the knowledge and experience that many think they do.

They are trained just as any kitchen Chef would do.

This is simply higher end.

No need to put these people on some pedestal.
 

post #12 of 25

wow, didn't know that. Thanks for the info! What an opportunity for someone living in the area!

We have two "community kitchen" type programs in my city that helps people with chronic unemployment, homelessness, ex-offenders. They teach them life skills, food safety, and they prepare the staff meals for the parent organizations so they have actual experience of prepping and even a few weeks on the line. I think it's awesome and I support them with donations and by visiting.

We also have two major private culinary schools in our city, (LCB and the previous LCB licensee Arizona Culinary Institute), and one of the very best college culinary programs in the nation. That's why my perception was skewed to think that Keller only took the best.  I made an unfounded assumption. But the vast majority of even prep cooks in my city came from a culinary school or at least took a six month program like I described. I also know of several restaurants that only take CIA and LCB graduates to apprentice. I assumed keller would be almost that picky. Again, I made a poor assumption.

But I still stand behind my claim that even the guy that makes rice at Jiro is a master. They have to apprentice seven years before they even get to do that.

post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by harrisonh View Post
 

wow, didn't know that. Thanks for the info! What an opportunity for someone living in the area!

We have two "community kitchen" type programs in my city that helps people with chronic unemployment, homelessness, ex-offenders. They teach them life skills, food safety, and they prepare the staff meals for the parent organizations so they have actual experience of prepping and even a few weeks on the line. I think it's awesome and I support them with donations and by visiting.

We also have two major private culinary schools in our city, (LCB and the previous LCB licensee Arizona Culinary Institute), and one of the very best college culinary programs in the nation. That's why my perception was skewed to think that Keller only took the best.  I made an unfounded assumption. But the vast majority of even prep cooks in my city came from a culinary school or at least took a six month program like I described. I also know of several restaurants that only take CIA and LCB graduates to apprentice. I assumed keller would be almost that picky. Again, I made a poor assumption.

But I still stand behind my claim that even the guy that makes rice at Jiro is a master. They have to apprentice seven years before they even get to do that.

 

Why would Thomas Keller only allow culinary school grads to work for him, if he himself never attended culinary school, that would make him a bit of a hypocrite...

 

Now about Jiro, lets remember food in Japan, is sacred. I remember in Iron Chef Japan, after Bobby Flay beat Morimoto, he got up on the kitchen table and held out his cutting board or something like that, and Morimoto almost fainted, called him a disgrace to the culinary world etc...

They are rigid, but i would also like to say in Japan women can´t even make sushi. Nowadays there is even restaurants in Japan with only women sushi chefs, and they only did 7 week courses and seem to be producing great food lol. Im pretty sure a employee at Jiro learns how to make rice after a few months of just watching and talking to other cooks, especially if he already has experience, the fact that one employee is waiting 7 years to get authorized to do so, just means he respects  the chef and owner, and wants to have that on his resume.... 

 

As for Thomas Keller, the guy is great and all, but im sure there are many chefs out their superior to him, working in underground restaurants producing great food, and will probably never achieve fame. 

The guys working at the French Laundry aren´t gods, some just think they are...

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

Dr.Seuss

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Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

Dr.Seuss

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post #14 of 25
My old chef went to school in France and didn't finish but he still went on to work fish at the French laundry. This was back in the days when grant achatz was sous there though. I know he encourages education (he has a clip on YouTube about it) but I'm pretty sure it's not mandatory.
post #15 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by harrisonh View Post
 

wow, didn't know that. Thanks for the info! What an opportunity for someone living in the area!

We have two "community kitchen" type programs in my city that helps people with chronic unemployment, homelessness, ex-offenders. They teach them life skills, food safety, and they prepare the staff meals for the parent organizations so they have actual experience of prepping and even a few weeks on the line. I think it's awesome and I support them with donations and by visiting.

We also have two major private culinary schools in our city, (LCB and the previous LCB licensee Arizona Culinary Institute), and one of the very best college culinary programs in the nation. That's why my perception was skewed to think that Keller only took the best.  I made an unfounded assumption. But the vast majority of even prep cooks in my city came from a culinary school or at least took a six month program like I described. I also know of several restaurants that only take CIA and LCB graduates to apprentice. I assumed keller would be almost that picky. Again, I made a poor assumption.

But I still stand behind my claim that even the guy that makes rice at Jiro is a master. They have to apprentice seven years before they even get to do that.

I assume you're in the phx area? I am as well, and I've never even set foot in a culinary school. I've worked some nice places and have a trial coming up for one of the nicer places in the city. We're not all culinary graduates. 

post #16 of 25

Your Sous is a direct reflection of you as a Chef.  Per the role, you are there to teach and mentor.  When accepting the position/job - they should understand that in any kitchen, there is the chain of command.  At the end of the day, they are your employee and right hand person - the person you need to trust more than anyone in the kitchen to uphold YOUR standards and YOUR expectations.  If there is a rift, there is a problem.

 

Regardless of the length of your resume, it is something your sous should understand.  They are there to learn how to eventually be you.  If they believe they are at your level or exceed your level, it's time for them to move on to their own kitchen rather than question the operations of your kitchen.

 

I would sit down and talk to your sous and always ask questions - ask them how they feel they are doing, what they think needs improvement and how to make things better/run more smoothly.  Always with respect.  The talk between the two of you should be a lot about your sous' opinions and thoughts.  Then take what they say into consideration and think about it.  Are these ideals of theirs the same that run in line with yours?  Are they the thoughts of someone you WANT as your #2?  If so, talk to your sous about both of your roles and explain that you are there to teach your sous how to be the executive chef.  Tell them everything you have just told us - things you are unhappy/uncomfortable with.  If they see the light, great.  Cross your fingers and make sure it isn't a pile of bull.  If it's a big steaming heap, it's probably time to find a sous who is there to BE *your* sous.  To be cultivated, to learn and to grow.

 

At the end of the day - your kitchen is your home.  It is where your heart and soul find fire.  You should never feel uncomfortable in your own kitchen.  It's up to you to fix it however necessary.  A one on one talk is always a great place to start.

post #17 of 25
Quote:

I have a small restaurant with room for only 4 chefs at a time

 

 

...   this is your first problem.  

 

Learn what a Chef is and then you learn how to work with them.

----

 


"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

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----

 


"Plus, this method makes you look like a complete lunatic. If you care about that sort of thing".  - Dave Arnold

 

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post #18 of 25
"CHEF" is only a vocabulary word. You either have skills ... or you don't.

We work in kitchens ... It ain'te rocket surgery.
post #19 of 25

When I was new to the business I received this good advice.

 

"Sometimes you need to fire an employee. It is necessary to keep your business healthy. Don't put it off."

 

This employee will cause a revolution in your operation. If you are uncomfortable working around her,what do you think the other employees think?

 

And stop slapping fancy titles on your employees. They will figure out who they are.--Mike---

post #20 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by IceMan View Post

"CHEF" is only a vocabulary word. You either have skills ... or you don't.

We work in kitchens ... It ain'te rocket surgery.

 

Shows how much you know, it's rocket SCIENCE!  Brain SURGERY!  ;)

post #21 of 25
Quote:
 One of my two sous is good at her job, though she tends to make me feel unwelcome in my own kitchen or regularly question my authority. Not even sure she realizes she is doing it, but it's like a power struggle or something.

 

If you plan to speak with her about this issue (and you should, asap) you need to be more specific about what, exactly, the problem is. 

Does she constantly undermine your directions by doing things her own way? Does she adhere to standards that you set, or make up her own? Does she constantly offer advice on how things should be done? What, really, is the problem?

 

You should sit down with her and talk it out. There's a formula that's always been helpful to me in addressing situations like this.

1. State the facts as YOU experience them. Example, "when I gave you a list of prep work to be done, only half of it got finished."

2. State how those facts affect your job. Example, "When only half the prep gets done, that makes my day longer because I have to finish it."

3. State how you want those facts to change. Example, "I want you to finish the prep work I give you before doing anything else. If you cannot do it in the time allotted, I want you to tell me what is inhibiting you so we can find a solution together." 

 

This way of speaking from your own perspective reinforces your authority as the Exec. Chef and Owner. It also leaves no room for argument.

 She might know that she has more experience than you, and really is trying to assert her power. However, it's up to you, as owner, to set the standards for your establishment and communicate your expectations clearly so your staff are all working together toward a common goal.

 

After all, the restaurant is your vision, it's your name on their paychecks, it's your risk, and your responsibility to run an effective business.  Employees are there to assist in realizing your vision-not the other way around.

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www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

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post #22 of 25

I agree with a lot of what others have said. There is a lot of EGO in the kitchen. Emotions run high and unless you've done it (been a Chef) for a long time, you don't really understand that. Me? I have always been direct. It is better to try to have a face to face while calm then let it build up to a point where you blow up.

 

Like you said, she probably doesn't even know she's doing it. 

 

I really like the suggestions by @foodnfoto. I think they will serve you well. Forget about being the "Chef" you are the Owner. You absolutely should feel respected in your own place. Your kitchen should be your sanctuary. 

 

Good luck!

post #23 of 25
I've never understood ego in the kitchen, we are sweaty servants who get to use beautiful ingredients to please people. For me it's a humble way to show love and respect for the diner with each plate.
post #24 of 25

As Chef owner, you are digging yourself a deep hole by allowing your sous to create a strain on your order of business. If you feel it, chances are your team senses all or most of it. It sounds like you are a very amiable boss. This will kill your business. You do not have the be the "unapproachable hard ass", but you will lose and never get back the respect of your team if you do not set the standard of "who's who" now. I'm sure if you really look at it, you will realize you do not need this particular individual, and probably have or know of a cook coming up the ranks that deserves a shot. As a developmental piece, It will give your other sous a chance to mentor him or her, and instill YOUR WAY into their training. You deserve the utmost respect and congratulations for being a chef owner in this industry, and never cut yourself short by "tip toeing" around your subordinates. I am sure, in fact I know you have a lot on your plate and should not spend a "skinny minute" worrying about having to work with a piece that doesn't fit in your kitchen.

  I hope I wasn't too aggressive in this, but I have been there and continue to work at organized team building myself.

post #25 of 25

If, on your way to work, you aren't looking forward to working with someone in your kitchen--no matter the size of the brigade, it's time for one of you to go.

 

It's YOUR kitchen.

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