Cooks Management

How to be a Badass Sous Chef

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Written by Alex Saenz

I will always consider myself just a line cook. Others call me chef. Of course, as a sous chef, there are many more responsibilities, but the day you think you are above others, others will not follow you and that can doom a kitchen. As a sous chef, you have to be ready to do anything and everything in a kitchen: from washing dishes, to making salads, to mopping floors, to firing up the grill, to laying on your back and fixing the 3-bay sink. As a chef and leader of a restaurant, you have to be ready to fill any role needed. If you think that way, every single one of your cooks will believe in you and follow you til the end.

There is so much that happens in a restaurant every single day; the most important thing is creating a group of people that want to be part of something important, be part of a family because in the end, we spend more time at work than we do at home, so it becomes our home. We laugh together, we get pissed off at each other, we sing songs together, we eat meals together, we learn lessons together and at the end of the day we have a beer together and say goodnight.

What to consider before taking any cooking job
The most important thing to consider are the hours; you have to sacrifice a big chunk of your life to this job. You want to be a part of everything that happens and bleeds in a restaurant.

Understand the difference between being a line cook and a sous chef
A line cook walks in the door and knows exactly what they are doing because they have a specific station and they need to prep it and be ready for service. A sous chef’s prep will affect every station.

Understand the difference between a sous chef and an executive chef
EVERYTHING is different. As a sous chef, don’t even begin to compare yourself to it.

Avoid the worst things a sous chef can do
The worst thing you can do is be unprepared. And not be supportive of your fellow line cooks. As a sous chef you have to be ready for whatever is thrown at you.

Don’t let questions frustrate you
Sounds simple, but as sous chefs we get asked so many questions from so many people, that it can be tiring and sometimes frustrating, especially when they’re repetitive.

The importance of being honest
Honesty. There’s so much pressure in the kitchen that a lot of times you try to lie or bullshit around something. Just be honest; that’s all sous chefs and chefs want. “I FUCKED UP CHEF,” doesn’t piss us off unless it’s repeatedly. “I don’t know what happened,” pisses chefs off because in the end, we know who fucked up. We just want to see who has the balls to admit it and make it right.

Know what you don’t know and never say ‘no’
You don’t have every answer. Don’t ever think you know more than a line cook; you are there to support line cooks, not look down. You are the cushion to the line cooks and the beating drum to the chef….all you do is say ‘yes’! There is no ‘no’. Head down and ‘oui chef!’ no matter how stupid and unattainable a question that is asked of you.

Believe in each other
Believe that what your chef tells you is right, no matter what you have learned anywhere else. Every place does things differently, but I want my line cooks to do things the way I showed them. Believe that I will show you the proper way of doing things. Believe that we are training you of how to do things here, in this restaurant. Here is what is important today; not there. I learned this the hard way, but we all think we know how to do something better. For a chef, hearing “I know,” is one of the most annoying things; just listen and be quiet. Everyone has a different way of doing things…if you stay quiet and just learn from everyone you work for, your repertoire is going to be badass!

About the author

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Alex Saenz

Alex Sáenz is the Chef de Cuisine at Puritan & Company in Cambridge, MA. and was also the chef de cuisine at Lineage, the Brookline restaurant run by chefs Jeremy and Lisa Sewall. Alex is a graduate of the L.A. campus of Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts and grew up in Peru and in the South.