Become an Executive Sous Chef: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Find out how to become an executive sous chef. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in the culinary arts. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become an…
  • 1:09 Complete a Formal…
  • 2:09 Gain Experience
  • 2:45 Get Certified

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Video Transcript

Should I Become an Executive Sous Chef?

Degree Level Apprenticeship program; college/technical school program, associate or bachelor's degree
Degree Field Culinary arts, cooking, baking, pastry arts
Certification Voluntary certification available through the ACF
Experience Apprenticeships, internships, or entry-level work typically required
Key Skills Candidates must have sensory abilities for taste and smell; manual dexterity; interpersonal and business skills; creativity; ability to use nutrition analysis, menu planning, and restaurant inventory software; ability to use kitchen equipment such as food slicers, cutlery, graters, stoves, ovens, and thermometers
Salary $39,723 (2016 median salary for executive sous chefs)

Sources: O*NET Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), American Culinary Federation (ACF), Payscale.com (July 2015)

An executive sous chef assists the executive chef and serves as the second in command in a kitchen. Duties of executive sous chefs include planning menus, training cooks, ordering food and supplies, assisting line cooks and ensuring that sanitation rules are followed. The work is often stressful and fast-paced, with many hours spent standing.

These professionals must have strong culinary skills, including sharp sensory abilities for taste and smell, manual dexterity, cooking tool expertise and the ability to use kitchen equipment, such as food slicers, cutlery, graters, stoves, ovens and thermometers. Additionally, they should be familiar with nutrition analysis, menu planning and restaurant inventory software. Earnings for executive sous chefs vary by experience and employer, but overall, sous chefs earned a median annual salary of $39,723 as of January 2016, according to Payscale.com. Now let's take a look at the steps along the executive sous chef career path.

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Step 1: Complete a Formal Training Program

Sous chefs can receive formal training at culinary schools, community colleges, universities and technical schools. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredits sous chef education programs. Many aspiring chefs complete certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in culinary arts. Students in these programs spend time in kitchens learning new cooking skills, while in-class coursework covers nutrition, public health laws, sanitation, menu planning, food history and equipment handling.

During postsecondary school, students can gain hand-on experience in the kitchen by participating in internships. Colleges often help students find internships that provide professional kitchen experience. Alternatively, students can complete ACF-sponsored apprenticeship programs. These 2-year and 3-year paid apprenticeships involve working in professional kitchens under the supervision of an experienced chef and completing classroom or online instruction.

Step 2: Gain Experience

Experience is key, since executive sous chefs need to know the ins and outs of the kitchen, from the duties of the lowest level worker to the overarching culinary methodology practiced in the kitchen. So aspiring executive sous chefs may initially start in entry-level positions in the kitchen, such as dishwashers, fry cooks, line cooks or food preppers. Others, especially those with formal training and internship experience under their belt, may be hired as a chef and learn more from experienced chefs until they're qualified for promotion to sous chef.

Step 3: Get Certified

Certification is not required, but can demonstrate a high level of culinary knowledge. Sous chef certification is available for individuals who meet the education, training and examination requirements. While not typically required by employers, certification can demonstrate proficiency and lead to career advancement. The American Culinary Federation offers the Certified Sous Chef designation, which requires five years of experience in the culinary field and a high school diploma. Candidates must also complete three courses in food safety and sanitation, nutrition and management, as well as passing both written and practical exams. To keep certification current, certified sous chefs must fulfill 16 continuing education hours each year.

Executive sous chefs generally have formal culinary training and extensive experience in a professional kitchen, and certification may improve job opportunities.

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