Chef Vs Sous Chef: Hierarchy System Explained


When it comes to restaurant positions, there are many that you should know about. However, the most asked difference by far is the one between a chef and a sous chef.

In this article, I will teach you exactly the difference between the two, what other occupations are there in the kitchen, how to rise in the restaurant hierarchy, and more! Before I get ahead of myself, what’s the difference between a chef and a sous chef?

Chef or other known as an executive or head chef, is the highest on the kitchen hierarchy system. Chefs are in charge of the management side of things, making sure that the restaurant is running. A Sous chef or a second chef is second in command. They are often is in charge of the food preparation.

That’s a short explanation of things, but it’s true nonetheless. Now, if you want to really understand the differences and responsibilities chefs and sous chefs usually have in restaurants, stick with me, and I’ll explain it further.

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Difference between chefs and sous chefs

First, let’s learn more about chefs and see what their usual kitchen and restaurant duties are. It’s good to remember that there are dozens of different restaurant types, and every restaurant handles things differently, depending on their size, needs, and preferences.

Chef (Executive Chef, Head Chef, Chef de Cuisine)

As you can see, there are many names for chefs, and in most cases, it is a head chef or chef de cuisine. However, the highest chef in the hierarchy might be an executive chef, but you can only find them in large restaurants with probably multiple locations under their brand.

Nonetheless, many high-end quality restaurants need an executive chef who will oversee everything within the kitchen. This includes many following responsibilities:

  • Overseeing the operation (May include multiple restaurants)
  • Menu planning
  • Interacting with head chef, sous chef, and line cooks.
  • Hiring new restaurant staff
  • Ordering ingredients
  • Planning schedules and holidays
  • Event and entertainment planning
  • Monitoring quality
  • Problem-solving

As you can imagine, these responsibilities aren’t fit for a chef that has just graduated from culinary school or began working as a self-taught chef. The role of an executive chef is always filled with a person with decades of restaurant and management experience.

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It is extremely rare that you would see an executive chef cooking because they are more managers than cooks. Executive chefs have already done their cooking in their career so if you would see one behind the grill, something surely has gone wrong. Let’s move on to head chefs.

Head chefs or Chef de Cuisines are more or less like executive chefs. However, executive chefs are only found in large high-end restaurants or quality chain restaurants. So what does a head chef do?

Below you can find some tasks in addition to the ones they might have in common with executive chefs.

As you can see, there are many similarities between the executive and head chefs. However, as the last task reveals, head chefs usually give tasks to sous chef that are more involved with the actual cooking, and some tasks with lesser importance than ordering the ingredients for the week.

This brings us to sous chefs. Let’s take a look what their days might include.

Sous Chef (Second Chef)

If you have the position of a sous chef, the chances are you already have multiple years of experience in the field and are thriving towards the career of a head chef. Sous chefs need to be as or even more motivated than everyone else in the restaurant.

Sous chefs have many responsibilities within the restaurant, but they are more involved in cooking and communicating with the line cooks. Sous chefs usually do some responsibilities head chefs assing them, and if the head chef is away, sous chef steps in and takes the lead, so they have already awarded with the trust of all in the restaurant.

Below you can find some common duties sous chefs have in the restaurant.

  • Fill in head chef’s shoes
  • Assisting head chef with tasks
  • Receiving shipments
  • Being in charge of food preparation
  • Training new or inexperienced cooks
  • Monitors efficient operation (Reduces food, water, and money waste)

There are some similarities between head and sous chef tasks; however, you can see that they are more involved in the actionable steps at the restaurant. Sous chefs need to have excellent cooking, organization, and efficiency skills, see the big picture and work well with others. They are the middle people between the line cooks and head chefs, so the responsibilities are vast.

In conclusion, chefs are more involved in the monitoring, planning, ordering, side of things. They need to make sure that the external factors work well that consider the kitchen. Sous chefs are more involved in the internal side of things under the guidance of the head chef, of course.

Now, let’s move on and see what’s below sous chef in the hierarchy system.

What’s below a sous chef

As you already know, executive, head, and sous chefs aren’t the only titles and jobs inside a restaurant. There are many more so let’s go down to the hierarchy system and let’s begin the one below sous chefs. Line cooks.

Line Cook ( Station Chef, Chef de Partie)

Things get interesting when talking about line cooks. This is because they are the muscles behind the brain in the restaurant engine, and they are the ones who do most of the cooking. People who have a culinary education can often start their careers from here; however, self-taught chefs often start from the position of a prep cook or dishwasher but more on that later.

Most of the kitchen staff is filled with line cooks which is understandable because a restaurant can get hundreds of orders per night so they need a lot of efficiency. There are many different kind of line cook jobs out there such as:

  • Appetizer Chef (Entrée Cook) – in charge of creating appetizers.
  • Short order Chef – in charge of creating simple and easy dishes quickly.
  • Pantry Chef (Garde) – in charge of creating cold foods such as salads, cold cuts, cheese, dressings, etc.
  • Fry Chef (Friturier) – in charge of cooking fried foods.
  • Grill Chef (Grillardin) – in charge of preparing and cooking food at the grill.
  • Butcher Chef (Boucher) – in charge of cutting and making a variety of meats.
  • Fish Chef (Poissonier) – in charge of cooking fish dishes.
  • Vegetable Chef (Entremetier) – in charge of preparing vegetable dishes & soups.
  • Pastry Chef (Patissier) – in charge of creating bread, pastries, desserts, and other baked goods.
  • Sauce Chef (Saucier) – in charge of creating a variety of sauces.
  • Relief Chef (Chef de Tourant) – joker of the kitchen table to fill any position when needed. Also called Roundsman.

As you can see, there is a great variety of line cook positions, and certainly, not everything of these is within a single restaurant. Also, many restaurants have line cooks that are capable of doing multiple of these.

For example, I have been a grill, vegetable, and fish chef at the same time while other days fry, appetizer, short-order chef on others.

Also, when doing mise en place (food preparation), many sauces and pantries can be done in advance. All of this really depends on the restaurant. Now, let’s see what is below line cooks in the hierarchy system.

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Prep Cook

Prep cooks are in charge of mise en place (food preparation). Usually, they don’t actually cook and assemble dishes with the line chefs.

However, many line cooks and even sous chefs do food prep, so the lines aren’t clear in here either. Nonetheless, there are specific job descriptions to prep cooks, and their duty is to ensure the mise list is updated, ingredients are handled, and old foods are dealt with.

Food prepping might include:

  • Cutting, chopping, dicing, slicing, and grating ingredients so they are ready to be used.
  • Preparing sauces, dressings, and dips in advance.
  • Making croutons & spice butter
  • Cooking pasta, baked potatoes, and following day’s lunch in advance.

These are some common tasks for prep cooks and it is an important one as well!

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Kitchen Porter (Kitchen Steward, Kitchen Assistant)

Kitchen porters are helping hands of the kitchen whose main purpose and responsibility are to keep the area clean, make sure that kitchen supplies find their places, washing dishes, counting inventory, fetching items for the chefs, and even prepping food.

Many self-taught chefs can get their foot between the door as a kitchen assistant or prep cook, and they can quickly advance if they show enough skill. They are the helping hands of the kitchen.

Dishwasher

Dishwashers are a vital part of the restaurant engine, and big restaurants would have no chance of operating without them. As the name suggests, their responsibility is the wash dishes, cutlery, restaurant supplies, and everything that comes their way.

Personally, I have worked dishwasher gigs in dozens of restaurants, and even when I have a culinary education and have worked as a chef in equally or more places, washing dishes isn’t easier than working the grill, I can promise that!

As we can see, there are many hierarchy titles, and many of the world’s famous chefs have worked their way from the dishwasher to executive chefs and business owners, so as a young chef, don’t get discouraged! Everything is possible in the restaurant world.

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Conclusion

The restaurant hierarchy is an old one with a lot of history behind it. In fact, it can get a little barbaric inside a restaurant’s kitchen when the orders start to flow in, it’s hotter than the Sahara’s sun, and ingredients start to fade. The most important thing working as a chef is keeping a cool head, which is known to all chefs with experience.

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned more about the restaurant’s hierarchy system, the difference between a chef and a sous chef, and more.

Omar Abdalla

I’m the owner of JRS and while I love working in a busy restaurant, I also enjoy more peaceful and relaxed cookouts at home.

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