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Want to be a sous chef? Here's help

A sous chef plays a vital role in kitchen operations — no less important than his boss, the executive chef. Girija Duggal tells you all that you want to know about this prefession.

education Updated: Mar 18, 2010 09:34 IST
Girija Duggal

Aditya Jaimini never imagined he would end up being a chef. He hardly cooked at home, for one. It was only once he started studying for a degree in hotel management that he realised he’d found a field that spoke to his interests.

After more than 12 years in the profession, Jaimini is executive sous chef at The Park hotel, New Delhi, a position that represents almost the pinnacle of a culinary professional’s career ladder. His job role commands great respect, involves important responsibilities and, eventually, translates into immense satisfaction.

A sous chef de cuisine (literally, under-chef of the kitchen) is a person who is second in command to the executive chef and has a vital role to play in kitchen operations. “Not even a single day is monotonous. It’s a very creative field. The responsibilities include taking care of day-to-day kitchen operations, allocation of duties to all chefs, liasoning with other departments, procurement, designing menus and interacting with guests,” says Jaimini.

His days starts at roughly 10 am, after which he conducts meetings with all the chefs, takes a round of all kitchens and sees what important events are lined up for the day. Lunch and dinner times involve supervision of various kitchen operations and ensuring hygiene and quality control. A typical day ends at 10 or 11 pm.

The most important skills required at this position are management and team leading abilities. “You must be able to handle chefs who are sometimes much older or more experienced than you and in the case of commis (cooks), maybe not as literate either,” he says, adding, “I did an MBA from IGNOU and that has helped me a lot.” And though it’s not a skill, the sous chef must have a “yes attitude” – always ready to serve guests without complaint.

“A sous chef must have the mindset of a team leader, guide and mentor,” says Alok Shivpuri, principal, Institute of Hotel Management, Catering and Nutrition, Pusa.

To get there, the “minimum qualification is a recognised Bachelor’s in hotel management, followed by experience in different positions”, says Manisha Bhasin, senior executive chef, ITC Maurya and President, Indian Culinary Forum. “To be an executive sous chef in a reputed hotel, a minimum experience of 15 years is required,” she adds.

It’s a tough job, but the rewards more than make up for all the hard work and sweat. “It can be a very physically demanding job. When others are celebrating, you are working and not with your family. But you get to be creative and experiment with dishes, and even serve dignitaries,” says Jaimini, who cherishes a pat on the back from fomer US president George Bush as his best compliment.

Appreciative guests count too. “The results of your labour are instantaneous. There have been instances when people have stood up and clapped for me. That is the biggest satisfaction,” he says.

What's it about ?
A sous chef is the direct assistant of the executive chef and is the second-in-command. He/she is responsible for menu planning, quality control, mentoring junior chefs and stepping in when the executive chef is off duty. Smaller operations generally do not have a sous chef, but larger restaurants and hotels may have several

Clock Work
9-10 am: Arrive at work, settle down, check timetable for the day, issue orders and instructions to juniors
11 am: Hold a meeting with all chefs. Take a round of the kitchen and check the important catering events lined up for the day
12 noon-3 pm: Supervise lunchtime kitchen operations
3-4 pm: Lunch
4-6 pm: Take stock of inventory and place orders for the next day's requirements
6-7 pm: Take another round of the kitchen
7 pm onwards: Supervise kitchen operations for dinner and leave only once dinner is wrapped up. This could be as late as 11 pm or midnight

The Payoff
As a sous chef in a leading hotel, one’s salary can be anywhere between Rs 30,000 to Rs 70,000 per month. At a high-end standalone restaurant, you can earn up to Rs 1 lakh per month, inclusive of perks

. You must have good management and team skills. As a sous chef, you will be in charge of a team that may include much older, more experienced or less literate
people than you
. Ability to handle the stresses and pressures of the job and willingness to always remain cheerful and put in long hours of strenuous work
. You must have a 'yes attitude', as chef Jaimini puts it. This is a field that requires interaction with guests so always serve with a smile

How do I get there?
You will have to earn a recognised Bachelor’s degree in hotel management; this should be supplemented by a kitchen management training programme, followed
by on-the-job training at various positions

. National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology
. Institute of Hotel Management, Catering and Nutrition Pusa Complex, New Delhi
. Banarsidas Chandiwala Institute of Hotel Management & Catering Technology, Chandiwala Estate, Maa Anandmai Marg, Kalkaji
. Indian Institute of Hotel Management Aurangabad, Maharashtra
. The Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Management, WGSHA, Valley View International, Manipal - 576104, Karnataka
. The Oberoi School of Hotel Management 7, Shamnath Marg (near ISBT), Delhi
. Delhi Institute of Hotel Management and Catering Technology Behind Lady Sri Ram College, Lajpat Nagar IV, New Delhi. Phone : 26435883
. Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University Kashmere Gate, Delhi - 110006
. Rai University, Delhi A-41, MCIE, Mathura Road, New Delhi - 110044
. FHRAI Institute of Hospitality Management Plot -45, Knowledge Park-III Greater Noida, U.P. -201306

Pros & cons
The money is good
. It is a very creative field
. The results of your labour are instantaneous, you get quick feedback from guests
. You could have the opportunity of serving state dignitaries
. The job role demands long hours of physically exhausting work
. It can get quite stressful

It’s a multifaceted job

You do more than just cook, says an industry insider

What are the job responsibilities of a sous chef and an executive sous chef?
The responsibilities of a sous chef include menu planning, quality control, monitoring and standardisation of the shop floor, being aware of hygiene guidelines and ensuring 100 per cent food safety. An executive sous chef, has to interact with guests for special requirements in menu planning, interact with suppliers for better quality, market scan for new products, implement new concepts and mentoring sous chefs.

What are the skill sets one requires to get to this position?
The minimum requirement is a recognised Bachelor’s degree in hotel management, with experience in different positions. To be an executive sous chef in a reputed hotel, a minimum experience of 15 years is essential.

What courses can students take up in order to enter the culinary field?
There are various colleges run by the National Council (for Hotel Management and Catering Technology). There is an entrance test after 10+2, based on which qualified candidates are allotted institutes. Also, there are many private colleges in India. Students are given inputs on management aspects in the college itself.

Manisha Bhasin interviewed by Girija Duggal