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New Sous walking into a somewhat unknown work environment seeking some advice.

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
Hey everyone, a few days ago I accepted an offer to become the Sous Chef in a high-end restaurant in which they both have had NO sous for around 2 years, and also every member of the dinner line put in for the promotion including one member who was promoted and then demoted very shortly after. As an outside hire to upper management in any situation, but especially one under these circumstances, there will be some butt hurt employees and probably some loss of employees. That I can handle. What I'm more concerned of is how the atmosphere of the line and kitchen in general will suffer or react to this. I plan on calling a full staff meeting, and have a list of things to bring up, my first day there. My plan is to essentially "suck up" to them by explaining that I will need everyone's help learning about the place and menu, and I came here because I felt like there was great potential for me to learn from everyone there and that I have a lot to teach if they'll let me. Is this something you have done/experienced, was it or would you think it would be received well? Any ideas or input is greatly appreciated, thanks.
post #2 of 17

I have walked into many operations as a manager. Don't take this wrong, it's just me. I would not go in the direction you're going. For me, I have learned to go in the opposite direction. I would go in to manage the people there. Let them know you're there to manage them, offer knowledge and put out fires.When I was young I tried the suck up approach. I quickly learned that I undermined my own  athourity and had to work so much harder to gain respect.

I learned by observation. I spent time with each employee and evaluated each one. and so on. The menu and production were secondary.

  If you go in and tell them to teach you, I think that a majority of them will have the attitude, 'if I have to teach this guy, why did they hire him'.

Just my 2 cents.

Everyone has their own approach, I'm sure you'll be fine. Hey, they saw something in you to hire you.

Good luck,


post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 
No worries friend, I wouldn't take any advice wrong. I had considered that I may make myself look weak and almost encourage challenges with that attitude but I really wasn't sure. I have 15 years of experience and the last 7 were in Sous or Head Chef positions, but I was promoted up the ladder at for my first Sous, etc positions, and most recently worked for a friend for the first year of his restaurant, so we were ALL new hires, but never as an outside hire so this is new territory for me. Thank you for your input, very much appreciated.
post #4 of 17

My experience would pretty much echo the sentiments expressed by @panini.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
post #5 of 17

Yep, me too. Have a sit down with the chef the first day to get what HE wants the direction of the kitchen to go, what specifically he wants you to accomplish, learn your crew and their personalities, strengths and weaknesses then worry about the menu, etc. You just might find yourself working the line every day.

post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 
Yep, working the line has already been established haha. We're short a couple people because of some different reasons, thankfully the interview and hiring process has been fairly lengthy, so I've had a decent amount of time with the Exec Chef, GM, etc and we had already discussed a lot of the "if you're hired" scenarios. We're rolling out a new menu May 1st that I've had a copy of since my audition and the Chef and I have also already set aside some time the day before I start to go over some different things and spend some time getting to know each other a bit better. Thank you both for your input, and I'm convinced after hearing from all three of you that I need to go the direction you're all saying. This is why I love ChefTalk, it's such an awesome resource!
post #7 of 17
I'm one more for panini's approach. I did something similar to what you've suggested in taking a more diplomatic approach and incorporating employee's opinions and making them feel overly valued. Huge mistake. Nobody showed any respect and would constantly talk sh*t despite me excelling in my position. They were all bitter and resentful that none were promoted and an outside source dashed their hopes and dreams into management. Never ending battle to motivate them.

My approach now after years of management polishing is completely different. I do not care what people think or what their feelings are, I was put into this position because I am above all of them. Drawing the line in the sand between you and line cooks is essential. "I" and "you" are not one in the same. It might sound egotistical but it's not, it's good management. This is even more important at a sous level than an executive level because being a sous has unique challenges that an executive position doesn't have. Underminement by line cooks is probably one of the biggest problems. As long as you are a stoicly calm sous and not an ego driven megalomaniac that looses his cool constantly you'll be successful.
post #8 of 17

First of all, good luck in your new position.  Sounds like it will be both fun and challenging.  Sounds like your chef is going to be a good guy to work under.  I have to echo what everyone else has said here.  Having the kind of meeting that you want to have will undermine just about all of your authority.  This is especially true in the fine dining world where not only the chefs tend to have egos but most of the cooks also.  As said above, there is going to be a lot of resentment that the chef and owners hired from outside instead of promoting from within.  There will probably be at least 1 or 2 cooks gunning for you and your job.  You don't want to give them any ammo.  You need to earn their respect before you earn their loyalty.  With the meeting you want to have with these guys, it seems you want to earn their loyalty before you earn their respect, but by reversing the order you won't end up earning either from them.

post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 
[quote name="Pete" url="/t/89145/new-sous-walking-into-a-somewhat-unknown-work-environment-seeking-some-advice/0_100#posWith the meeting you want to have with these guys, it seems you want to earn their loyalty before you earn their respect, but by reversing the order you won't end up earning either from them.

Excellent way to put it, thank you! It's funny how different one detail can make your entire approach to a specific stage of your career isn't it? It feels strange to be asking for help with something I've been doing for nearly half my culinary career, but it's a new experience I'm wicked excited for. I've made a deal with myself that if I ever get to the point where I think I know everything or don't feel like anything is a challenge anymore, I'll hang up my chef coat. But hey, after 15 years here's another challenge and learning experience, I'll take it!
post #10 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thank you linecook, I appreciate your advice. I've been told at every place I've cooked that my ability to keep my cool was my meal ticket. Your advice to remain "stoically calm" is and always been my preferred management style so I'll take your advice and keep doing what I know!
post #11 of 17

All in all I'm in agreement with panini and line cook. Keep your cool,and observe. I just take it one step further especially when I walk into a situation where no one was promoted or was promoted and then demoted. Evaluate each one of you team. Continue interviewing and let them see you doing the interviews. Bring people into the kitchen. and just like any chef would do, systematically start to eliminate them. After you have replaced your 2 weakest links, either the others will fall back into place and strut their stuff or you'll wind up with an entirely new crew in 4 In the meantime, you've hired people who will be loyal to you...well most of the time.

When I was younger, I entered a job and had brought along several cooks who I had worked with for several years. I tired the "Get them involved" approached and totally undermined my authority. They literally turned on me by underperforming and making the Venue look Bad, while making me look like a fool. A total Backstab proving that this is a cut throat industry. Well in sports when the team goes south they fire the manager...same thing here. I was let go. They of course thought that they would be promoted into my position, but luckily, ownership knew and saw what they had done and systematically replaced then after they had hired the new chef and they had shown him the ropes. Of course they were cooperative and helpful and shined on the line after I had been let go reenforcing the fact that they had tried to pull of a mutiny. A lesson in life to say the least.


Some 13 years later I had a resume come across my desk of one of those losers....Ya I brought him in...had him interview with a bunch of people before he got to me, but when it was time for his 3rd interview and finally got to was all worth seeing the expression on his face when he walked into my office and saw me. I expressed myself, my feelings and told him..."I'd think about it......


So the moral of the story my young Sous Chef, is don't be paranoidly insecure, but CYA..... Cover Your Ass, as for many times in this day in age people are looking to advance themselves by pulling a fast one. Surround yourself with the best possible tools for success as you can, always be the best you can be and most of all...keep your cool!!   Carry on.....

post #12 of 17
Thread Starter 
"Trust no one, expect everything, everyone's replaceable" is one of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given, along with being reminded to never burn any bridges and "Be as sly as a fox and as gentle as a dove" which is my personal favorite haha thanks for the advice, and I wish I could've seen his face. Nothing like a good karma story eh?
post #13 of 17

What part of upstate NY....I have friends way up in Watertown...I was actually looking at an Executive Chef Job up on the Salmon River in Pulaski......

post #14 of 17
Thread Starter 
Beautiful area up there! You would love it until the winter haha I grew up in the Rochester area near Canandaigua Lake. Now I live in the Southern Tier closer to the PA border near Lake Keuka and Seneca Lake. I forget that someone who is familiar with NY so they know there's more than NYC like you are, knows that the area you're talking about is the REAL Upstate haha
post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
I just looked at your profile and saw you're from New England so I guess I don't need to tell you about bad winters eh? Haha I have some family in Massachusetts, considered heading up there so I could cook in Boston and live next to my beloved Fenway.
post #16 of 17

A Sox Fan! Good for you. I have a friend and fellow Patriots fan who lives in Rochester and is also a Patriots Season Ticket Holder. Makes the 6 hour trip to Foxborough across the Thruway every home game.....for the last 10 years!!  LOL..I was one of the Chefs at Fenway way back in the 1996 season. Walked some hallowed halls and met some old time baseball people.....Ted Williams included. Ya..We have some pretty bad winters here but nothing like up in Watertown and Buffalo with Lake effect Snows and lots of sub Zero Temps...a word to the wise...Boston sucks for trying to find a decent chef job and it has a cost of living that make your toes curl north...wicked Expensive....That's why I was thinking of heading up to that resort. I do ok with my consulting company and compound that with my Pats season's tough to dig up them deep roots! So Have you started that job yet?

post #17 of 17
Thread Starter 
Very cool! That had to be awesome. I've heard its no good out there, that's what stopped me. It's hard to hear and believe things are that bad for those of us who cook from this area because unless you give up and work for a chain or go crazy and open your own restaurant it's tough to make it work. So many restaurants depend on the tourism and lakers that they're only open from about April-October and don't pay well enough to live off of for the winter. It's a shame because there's a lot of talent and culinary history in the Finger Lakes.

No, I haven't started quite yet. Friday is my first day.
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