The Well-Paid Sous Chef


When people imagine who is preparing the food in a restaurant’s kitchen, they usually picture a top chef with a variety of helpers. The truth is, the executive chef in a large kitchen rarely cooks. They're too busy managing the day-to-day details of food-buying and management, menu creation, staffing and all the other tasks that keep a kitchen running well. The high salaries of chef are well-earned because they have the full responsibility of the kitchen and all the food prepared in it.

It’s the second-in-command to the executive chef, the sous chef, who is hands-on in the kitchen and makes sure every entree is just right. They check to see that each line cook is doing their job and that everything is running as smoothly as possible. The sous chef has to be able to quickly pitch in and cover for any missing line cook, so they have to know how to prepare all the food at each of the different stations. The job of a sous chef is a leadership role, so they have to be good at managing people along with managing a kitchen in the middle of meal preparations. This is not an entry-level position.

Pay range of sous chef

The median pay for the job of a sous chef was $40,630 per year in 2010, according to the U.S. Occupation Outlook Handbook, but a high paid sous chef can earn much more through experience and skill. Typically, the hospitality business, country clubs, hotel kitchens, cruise ships and casinos pay more than restaurants, with a salary of well over $50,000 for a sous chef with experience and good management skills. Once a sous chef has enough experience, they can move into an executive chef position and up to the high salaries of chef, earning as much as six figures.

Sous chef positions

While a restaurant is where most people expect to see chefs of any kind, an experienced chef, which a sous chef has to be, has a number of options when looking for work. They can work privately for a client, for an institution, for an employer providing meal service to employees, or for amusement park food services. They can also get hired for research and development by manufacturing companies to create new products or by chain restaurants to create menus. They can even move entirely away from cooking and work in sales for a company supplying food or kitchen equipment. 

Training for a sous chef position

An aspiring sous chef has options as far as training. He or she can start at the lowest level in a kitchen, like a dishwasher, and slowly learn the trade by apprenticeship. Someone with dedication and passion can work their way up, but it will take time. The other option is going to culinary school where they’ll learn all it takes to have a job in the culinary profession. Having this background can help their career progress faster in the kitchen and lead to being a high paid sous chef, but even with a culinary degree, they’ll have to work in the kitchen's lower positions to really learn the profession. Most culinary schools include placement in an internship for this reason, and a hiring chef or manager will want to see experience before making any offer.

With globalization and the expansion of the hospitality industry, an experienced sous chef will have a choice of lucrative jobs anywhere in the world. Getting those jobs will mean putting in the time to receive the training and experience that's necessary to become a sous chef.

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