Sous chefs play a vital role in the success of the kitchen, the club and the chef.
Executive chefs rely heavily on their sous chefs to do much of the heavy lifting when they can’t be in all places at all times. Similarly, line cooks and other culinary team members rely on the sous chef to serve as the buffer between them and the Exec.
This role comes with a unique set of challenges. But it’s also rich with opportunity to learn, grow and progress.
“As second-in-command, I have to bridge the gaps, be quick on my feet and solve problems as they arise,” says David Clark, Executive Sous Chef of Army Navy Country Club (Arlington, Va.), who likens the role of the sous to that of a Swiss Army knife.
Who’s The Boss?
Clark has been with Army Navy CC for just over two years. Previously, he was the Executive Sous Chef of Baltimore (Md.) Country Club for nearly five years, under Executive Chef Richard Jallet. When he was ready to leave Baltimore for personal reasons, Jallet was instrumental in helping him land the gig at Army Navy under Tim Recher, CEC.
When a new opportunity arose for Recher at Bay Colony Golf Club (Naples, Fla.), Clark found himself without an Exec. He applied for the position along with a handful of other candidates. He soon learned he was not only going to be interviewed—but also do the interviewing.
“I had to play double-duty during the search for a new chef,” says Clark. “I also had to keep the operation running. It was kind of awkward, but I wanted to learn from the process and my General Manager, Patrick King, was great about making sure that, no matter what happened, my role wouldn’t be contentious.”
Army Navy CC decided to leverage the opportunity to reinvent its culinary program and streamline the kitchen. Doug Anderson, who spent the bulk of his career with the Four Seasons organization, was hired as Executive Chef.
“We needed someone who was experienced, patient and able to confidently steer us in a new direction,” says Clark, who didn’t confess to Anderson that he had also applied for the position until they had worked together for nearly three months.
“He already knew,” says Clark. “But it didn’t bother him at all. If anything, it made him more confident in having me as his right hand.”
As the two have gotten to know each other better over the past year, it hasn’t all been sunshine and daisies. “We’ve butted heads, but we respect each other,” says Clark. “Trust is earned and we both knew early on it would come—and it has.”
Today, Clark and Anderson run Army Navy CC’s $7.8 million F&B operation with a “divide and conquer” mentality. They leverage each other’s strengths and are focused on quality above all else. They’ve rewritten the banquet menus, adjusted the structure of the kitchen and reconceptualized the fine-dining menu to resemble a free-standing upscale restaurant.
“Chef [Anderson] is an incredibly creative culinarian,” says Clark. “He’s taught me that being patient is a strength and that I need to focus on refinement before I’m ready to step up as an Exec.”
Necessary Stepping Stone
Sous chefs must wear multiple hats and be comfortable not always having a clear scope on what will need to happen on any given day. They must fill in as needed, which can be difficult but is absolutely necessary to climb the ladder.
Luke Anzano has held the Executive Sous Chef position at Kenwood Country Club (Cincinnati, Ohio) for the past three years. This is his first tour as a sous, but he comes from a high-end hotel background.
He works under Executive Chef Sean Sennet and together, the two run a $5.5 million F&B operation.
When Anzano first met Sennet, he was immediately impressed by his knowledge. “I knew I would learn a ton working with him,” says Anzano.
And learn, he has. Today, Anzano spends the bulk of his time in the kitchen, making sure everything is running according to plan. He works with the banquet team on member events and holidays. He makes sure all the set up and mise is executed properly. He’s responsible for the weekly specials, ordering and stock, too.
“Chef [Sennet] can’t always be in the kitchen,” says Anzano. “So I help most by being there, making sure everything is up to his quality standard.”
While he doesn’t believe he’s quite ready to take on the Exec role, Anzano hopes to eventually move up once he’s learned everything he can from Sennet.
“It’s the non-cooking side—the budgeting and the forecasting—that is the biggest challenge for me,” says Anzano. “But I’m learning. Chef [Sennet] is great about making sure I’m at the table for those discussions, learning how to do all of the tasks associated with the role of the Exec.”