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What’s the Difference Between a Head Chef and a Sous Chef?

chef vs sous chef

Smaller restaurants typically have just one Chef, but in bigger restaurants, you’ll encounter more than one. In these two different environments, Chefs have different roles and responsibilities.

The two key positions you’ll find in most large kitchens are the Head Chef and the Sous Chef. While they do similar work, these positions differ in their key responsibilities and have different ranks in the kitchen hierarchy.

To help you make the Head Chef vs. Sous Chef distinction, let’s define both roles and compare them.

Definitions and Key Differences of a Head Chef vs. Sous Chef

A chain of command exists in every kitchen, and both the Head Chef and the Sous Chef play key roles in it. However, the two roles are not the same and they don’t have the same duties and responsibilities. Let’s clear up the distinction by defining both roles.

What is a Head Chef?

A Head Chef is responsible for all kitchen operations. They make all the major decisions related to the kitchen and are in charge of menu planning, staffing and inventory management.

It’s up to them to ensure the entire kitchen performs at the highest standards. In addition, they’re responsible for budgets and making sure the kitchen isn’t a financial disaster.

As the leader in the kitchen, the Head Chef has to create a positive work environment for the whole team.

Besides the role of the Head Chef, large restaurants also have the Executive Chef role. They sit higher in the hierarchy and make all of the big-picture decisions.

What is a Sous Chef?

A Sous Chef is second-in-command in the kitchen and works directly under the Head Chef. They assist them in various tasks and manage the kitchen in their absence.

The role of a Sous Chef also involves being familiar with all aspects of kitchen operations and being ready to step in and perform any task when necessary.

The Sous Chef plays an important role in training and mentoring new kitchen staff members.

Smaller kitchens don’t always have a Sous Chef, while large ones can have more than one. In such cases, there are slight variations to the title to further specify their place in the kitchen hierarchy. Most commonly, these are junior and senior Sous Chef titles. The term “Sous Chef” comes from the French “Sous-Chef de Cuisine”, which translates to “UnderChef of the kitchen”.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Head Chef vs. Sous Chef

Both the Head Chef and Sous Chef oversee the rest of the kitchen staff and play important roles in food preparation. While these two roles share some responsibilities, they have different workloads. Here are some key differences.

Key responsibilities of a Head Chef

Every restaurant menu should stand out and be the attraction that brings customers back. The job of the Head Chef is to come up with dishes that match the restaurant’s theme. This includes both traditional meals customers will be familiar with, as well as their own unique creations.

Of course, working in a kitchen environment means they have an entire team to help them do this. While they focus on creating new recipes, other kitchen staff members help them deliver top-quality dishes to the customers. However, before the dishes are served, the Head Chef typically tastes them and checks whether plating has been done correctly.

Another thing the Head Chef does is keep track of inventory to ensure the kitchen is fully stocked at all times. In addition, they keep track of kitchen expenses to ensure it operates within budget.

In any restaurant, hygiene is extremely important. While overseeing the rest of the kitchen team, the Head Chef has to make sure everyone is complying with health and safety regulations.

chef preparing a dish

Key responsibilities of a Sous Chef

The Sous Chef does similar work to the Head Chef. However, they work more closely with the rest of the team and have slightly less responsibilities.

Their main duty is to assist the Head Chef in all kitchen activities. Whether it’s menu creation or staff supervision, the Sous Chef performs tasks they’re given by the Head Chef. Additionally, they run the kitchen in the Head Chef’s absence.

The Sous Chef is also in charge of training new kitchen workers and helping them settle in. Additionally, they look for opportunities to provide further training to current staff members and help them improve in their roles.

sous chef cooking

Key Skills Required for Each Role

It takes a lot of skill to move up the ranks and become a Chef. Those who perform the best and help the restaurant build its reputation can advance to the roles of Sous Chef and Head Chef. Let’s examine some key skills needed to work in each respective role.

Skills a Head Chef should have

The Head Chef is the “boss” of the kitchen. They’re often viewed as a visionary who not only prepares exceptional dishes, but also creates new recipes.

Since they’re managing the entire kitchen team, they should also be able to create a positive working atmosphere for everyone. This includes keeping the morale up and giving advice and passing knowledge onto other team members.

In popular restaurants that have a lot of customers, delivering dishes on time can be challenging, especially during peak hours. The Head Chef has to keep the kitchen running efficiently even when things get hectic.

Kitchens often have set budgets they need to operate within. It’s up to the Head Chef to make any big financial decisions that impact kitchen operations.

Skills a Sous Chef should have

As the second in command in the kitchen, the Sous Chef should be good at managing the rest of the team but also at delivering excellent meals.

Amazing cooking skills are essential for all Chefs, and the Sous Chef role is no exception. They should be able to assist the Head Chef in creating traditional dishes and inventing new recipes.

Additionally, they should be familiar with all kitchen positions and jump into those roles when necessary. They have to be able to perform well, no matter the task they’ve been given.

In the Head Chef’s absence, the Sous Chef should be able to run the kitchen just as well as the Head Chef and deliver quality dishes to customers as usual.

Head Chef vs. Sous Chef: Final Thoughts

Large restaurants and other establishments in the hospitality industry, such as hotels and cruises, often employ a Head Chef and a Sous Chef.

Even though both roles share tasks and duties, they’re different enough to warrant having separate titles. Both are viewed as high-level roles and it takes a lot of experience working in a kitchen environment to reach the level of expertise required to become a Chef.


The Head Chef is the key figure in most kitchen environments. The Sous Chef is the number two and their key responsibility is to assist the Head Chef. They’re followed by other types of Chefs, including the Pantry Chef, Pastry Chef and Commis Chef. Some large establishments also employ the Executive Chef, who sits at the top of the hierarchy and oversees multiple kitchens and Head Chefs.

Executive Chefs and Head Chefs are paid the most. The average salary for Executive Chefs in the U.S. is $6,670.00 per month, while Head Chefs make $6,136.00 per month. Since Sous Chefs sit slightly lower in the kitchen hierarchy, their salaries are lower. The average salary for the role in the U.S. is $4,667.75 per month.

Yes, but only after spending several years as a Sous Chef and displaying the right skills needed to become a Head Chef.

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