As second-in-command to the executive chef, a sous chef is one of the most vital positions in a professional kitchen. A sous chef is the link between the executive chef and the rest of the team. There can be a lot of competition for a sous chef position, so to help outshine other candidates, a chef needs certain skills and experience to prove they are capable of being in such a demanding role. Top-notch culinary skills are a priority for a sous chef of any club kitchen, but there are other important qualities to look for when hiring a sous chef.
While the executive chef is technically in charge of the kitchen, it is the sous chef who performs much of the hands-on management or oversees the kitchen when the executive chef is out of the kitchen. It’s critical to look for a sous chef that projects confidence and has the authority required to manage staff in an often busy, loud and stressful environment. Keeping the entire team working as a team toward a common goal is a big undertaking that requires clear leadership and communication skills and an ability to motivate and guide everyone.
A sous chef must also be quick-thinking, adaptable, calm under pressure, and have the ability to fix any problems that may arise in the kitchen. A sous chef must have strong organizational skills which allow for the kitchen to be more efficient, cleaner and safer, and ensure everything runs smoothly and minimizes chaos in the kitchen. A good sous chef is also able to train and supervise the kitchen staff and then help them carry out the executive chef’s intentions for cooking and plating the meal.
For any kitchen to succeed, the executive chef must trust that their second-in-command is competent, trustworthy and loyal. Reliability is the foundation of a successful working relationship between the executive chef and the sous chef, and a good sous chef has the ability to earn and maintain this trust. With qualities such as loyalty that are hard to determine through just an interview, it’s important to always check references. Speaking with their previous chefs directly will most likely give you an honest assessment of their past performance. If their resume has numerous short-term jobs, try to find out from the candidate or previous employer why they weren’t the right fit. Ideally, it’s nice to see sous-chefs who can stay put at least one full year.
Much of what a club needs to look for when hiring a sous chef won’t be on their resume. While they may have great cooking skills, not every candidate will hold the leadership skills necessary to help run a successful kitchen. Asking how they respond to criticism, how they have handled more stressful situations, how they stay motivated, what made them choose a career in the culinary industry, and what they know about the club are some questions that can help gain insight into a candidate’s personality, competencies and capabilities.
A successful sous chef needs to be an executive chef’s right hand and can juggle all of the demands of the kitchen, even when the team is feeling overworked and stressed. The role of a sous chef is not an easy one, with long hours in an environment that can be fast-paced and stressful at times. But there are crucial skills and qualities to look for when hiring a sous chef that can play a vital role in making a club’s kitchen successful. Having strong culinary and management skills is a top priority when hiring a sous chef, but it is also necessary to hire a chef who will be highly involved in creating a positive experience for members with the willingness to provide a high level of customer service.