While the executive pastry chef is technically in charge of the pastry department, it is the assistant/sous pastry chef who performs much of the hands-on management or oversees the department when the executive pastry chef is out of the kitchen. A successful sous pastry chef needs to be an executive pastry 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 pastry 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 pastry chef that can play a vital role in making a club’s pastry department successful.
Much of what a club needs to look for when hiring a pastry sous chef won’t be on their resume. While they may have great culinary skills, not every candidate will hold the leadership skills necessary to help run a successful pastry department. 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.
For any pastry department to succeed, the executive pastry 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 pastry chef and the pastry sous chef and a good sous 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 pastry sous chefs who can stay put at least one full year.
It’s critical to look for a pastry 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 towards a common goal is a big undertaking, which requires clear leadership and communication skills and an ability to motivate and guide everyone. A pastry sous chef must also be confident, quick-thinking, adaptable, calm under pressure, and have the ability to fix any problems that may arise in the kitchen.
A pastry 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. Besides having the necessary culinary and baking skills, a pastry chef needs to be creative and detail-oriented. A pastry chef should be able to create new and unique flavor combinations while working closely with the executive pastry chef and dishes that are also staying on trend. Creativity should also be present in the presentation of the dish along with any decorating. A good pastry sous chef is also able to train and supervise the pastry department and then help them carry out the executive pastry chef’s intentions.
Formal training and a degree are not necessary to become a pastry sous chef, however whether through an internship, apprenticing, finding a mentor, or culinary school, some form of hands-on experience is an essential part of the learning process. However, for a position like pastry sous chef, employers usually look for candidates with some level of professional education. To take qualifications even further and stand out from other candidates, pastry sous chefs can earn certifications through well-respected organizations such as the American Culinary Foundation or The World Association of Chefs’ Societies. Seeking additional credentials and certifications prove that they’ve stayed current in the industry and are continually working to improve.
More than just putting together impressive desserts, pastry sous chefs are a vital part of any country club’s culinary team no matter the size of their pastry department. Having strong culinary and management skills is a top priority when hiring a pastry 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.