What Is A Sous Chef?

When it comes to professional kitchens and restaurants, there are all kinds of different roles that you can take on.

What Is A Sous Chef?

Each of them have their own specific tasks and it’s especially important that each person knows exactly what their role is – after all, kitchens are high-pressure environments where there isn’t a lot of time to make mistakes! 

A key role in a professional kitchen is that of the sous chef, but what do they actually do? 

In our handy guide below, we’ve got the complete guide to the sous chef. We’ve got all the essential information about what a sous chef is, what they do, the skills they must possess, and much more. Read on!

What Is A Sous Chef?

First things first, let’s explain what a sous chef is. Put simply, a sous chef is the primary assistant to the head chef, who then in turn words for the top position of the kitchen – the executive chef.

As you can see, this means that the sous chef holds the highest position of seniority in the kitchen hierarchy. 

How do they assist the two chefs above them? Well, they have the essential task of ensuring that the commands of the head chef and the executive chef are widely known in the kitchen and being obeyed by all the relevant chefs. 

This is a crucial role, because communication is key to success in a kitchen, but it’s not the only role that the sous chef might take on.

In instances where the head or executive chefs are not available, then the sous chef is the one to step up and take on their duties. 

Where Does A Sous Chef Get Its Name?

The reason that a lot of people aren’t quite sure about what a sous chef’s role and position is within a professional kitchen is probably due to the French name.

While the titles of an executive chef or head chef are self-explanatory, the French title of a sous chef is a little less clear in its meaning.

The title of sous chef comes from the full French name of “sous-chef de cuisine”, which translates to the “under-chef of the kitchen”. This title suggests something of the hierarchy of the kitchen, but still isn’t entirely clear about the sous chef’s position. 

What Does A Sous Chef Do?

What Is A Sous Chef?

We’ve already touched on the key roles of the sous chef in a professional kitchen, but there’s plenty more to explain.

As you know, the sous chef is responsible for ensuring the commands of the head chef and executive chef are met, and this extends to the idea that the sous chef is in charge of realizing the executive chef’s vision.

The executive chef will have a vision for the dishes that their kitchen will put out, and the sous chef is essential to bringing that to life. 

In addition to that, a sous chef also ensures that every piece of food coming out of the kitchen meets the rigorous standards of the establishment.

In fact, the sous chef is also responsible for testing the menu and checking that the kitchen only has fresh ingredients in its pantry. 

Freshness and quality extends into another of the sous chef’s responsibilities: ensuring that the kitchen is always meeting health, safety, and hygiene standards. If an unhygienic meal is served to a customer, the sous chef is to blame. 

On top of that, the sous chef is also in charge of keeping the kitchen staff efficient and overseeing any apprentice chefs. 

Finally, the sous chef must also know how to use every piece of equipment that the kitchen has. This must be in-depth knowledge too, even extending to knowledge how each piece of kitchen equipment could be prepared should it become faulty or broken.

What Skills Must A Sous Chef Possess?

There are a variety of skills that a sous chef must possess in order for them to do their job to the best possible standard. A lot relies on them, so it’s essential that they have these skills. 

Motivation And Leadership

A sous chef is in charge of the entire kitchen staff, so they must have excellent management skills, being able to communicate their wishes in a clear manner.

Of course, they’ll be relaying essential information between the executive chef, head chef, and all kinds of staff, so they must be accurate. Additionally, they also need to be a great motivator, keeping the team happy and engaged.


A sous chef also needs to be creative, because they may need to redesign or adapt the kitchen’s menu at any given time. On top of this, many kitchens will have a dish of the day, and the sous chef needs to pick that out from what’s available in the pantry. 

Excellent Cooking Skills

Of course, a sous chef may have lots of responsibilities to do with management and communication, but they still need to be an excellent chef themselves.

After all, if a chef doesn’t have excellent cooking skills themselves, how will they be able to know that their kitchen is putting out excellent food? As a result, the sous chef needs to help develop recipes of the highest quality.

Where Is The Sous Chef In A Kitchen Hierarchy?

We’ve already explained that the sous chef is third highest in a professional kitchen’s chain of command, being the primary assistant to the head chef, who in turn looks up to the executive chef.

However, despite these two positions senior to the sous chef, it’s often the sous chef who is the head of the kitchen staff when it comes to direct leadership. 

As a result, various roles report to them: waiting staff, junior chefs, station chefs, and dishwashers. The executive chef is less directly involved because they’re focused on preparing the food – it’s the sous chef who’s maintaining the kitchen.

Final Thoughts

The sous chef is the direct leader of a kitchen, conveying the commands of the head and executive chefs.

Kaitlyn James
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