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Executive Chef vs Sous Chef: 7 Key Role Differences

February 14, 2024

In professional kitchens, the roles of executive chef and sous chef are fundamental building blocks to a functioning foodservice workflow. At first glance, they can appear oddly similar—they both run the kitchen and make sure food gets made—but there are critical differences in the roles and responsibilities.

Let’s demystify the executive chef and sous chef positions and highlight their unique (yet interdependent) roles so you can identify how far you want to take your culinary career. In this article, we’ll cover… 

  • Why the executive chef makes the bigger bucks 
  • The essential functions and duties of a sous chef vs executive chef
  • How these two chefs work together in kitchen settings

Let’s get into the kitchen hierarchy and make sense of it all.

The Executive Chef: Big-Picture Leadership and Strategy

The executive chef is most often the high-ranking culinary person in a foodservice organization. Their role is multifaceted: they ultimately own food quality and workflows, but are also the greatest decision-maker when it comes to culinary strategy and and direction across all of an organization’s service models (like restaurants, corporate cafes, catering, etc).

Executive chef responsibilities can manifest pretty differently depending on the organization’s size. An executive chef at a single-location restaurant has most of the same responsibilities of an executive chef at a corporate headquarters, but at a much smaller scale (and with fewer direct reporting staff).

If you’re looking for an executive chef role, you’ll want to be comfortable with… 

  • Culinary creativity and menu development. The executive chef is responsible for high-level menu strategy and engineering, ensuring that menus work for diverse sets of customers and budgets across service locations.
  • High-level kitchen management. This includes overseeing kitchen leadership, managing inventory, and ensuring compliance with food safety regulations.
  • Business strategy and financial oversight. In most settings, the executive chef is the budgeting and financial planning leader for all things food. They frequently collaborate with direct reports to optimize profitability and efficiency, often across multiple locations or teams.
  • Staff hiring and training. The executive chef often oversees hiring, training, and supervising kitchen staff—sometimes including the sous chef—ensuring a high standard of culinary excellence.

The role of an executive chef is pivotal in defining the culinary and operational success of a foodservice organization—often across many service locations and models.

Also Read: Google to Galley: What I Learned Across A Culinary Leadership Career

The Sous Chef: Day-To-Day Operational Management

The sous chef is a linchpin in the culinary team, acting as the primary support to the executive chef and ensuring the kitchen's day-to-day operations run smoothly. Their role is diverse, balancing hands-on culinary work with key management responsibilities, but the key responsibility often boils down to making sure the kitchen performs day-to-day.

If you’re on the hunt for a sous chef role, it’ll likely include… 

  • Culinary execution and support. The sous chef is instrumental in executing the menu designed by the executive chef. They ensure every dish meets stringent quality standards and uphold the culinary vision of the establishment.

  • Staff management and leadership. They play a vital role in supervising kitchen staff, managing shift schedules, and stepping in for the executive chef as needed. This often includes training and mentoring junior chefs and cooks.

  • Inventory control and ordering. The sous chef is responsible for inventory management, ordering supplies, and maintaining a cost-effective kitchen operation.

  • Upholding day-to-day standards. They ensure that food safety regulations are strictly followed and that the kitchen maintains high hygiene standards.

The sous chef's position is essential for maintaining the culinary standards and operational efficiency of a kitchen, acting as the connecting point between the executive chef, the kitchen staff, and the overall success of the culinary operation.

Also Read: The Dawn Of The Culinary Operating System

Executive Chef vs Sous Chef: Comparing The Roles

We see people asking about the differences in these chef roles frequently, so we wanted to create a little direct comparison on some of the most frequently mentioned vectors. Here’s how the executive chef and sous chef roles compare:

Leadership and Decision-Making

Executive Chef: Holds the top leadership position in the kitchen, or across many kitchens. They make key decisions about menu design, kitchen management, and culinary direction.

Sous Chef: Acts as a second-in-command, often making day-to-day operational decisions, especially in the absence of the executive chef. Their decision-making is more focused on execution rather than strategy.

Culinary and Creative Responsibilities

Executive Chef: Primarily responsible for the overall culinary vision, creating new dishes and setting quality standards across multiple locations or service models (catering, restaurants, etc).

Sous Chef: Focuses on implementing the executive chef's vision, ensuring consistency in dish preparation, and sometimes contributing to menu ideas.

Management and Administrative Tasks

Executive Chef: Oversees broader kitchen operations, including budgeting, staffing, and liaising with suppliers and management.

Sous Chef: Handles more of the day-to-day management tasks like inventory control, staff scheduling, and supervising kitchen staff.

Training and Mentorship

Executive Chef: Often involved in higher-level training and development of kitchen staff, setting the standard for culinary skills and professional conduct.

Sous Chef: Plays a more hands-on role in training new staff and providing continuous on-the-job coaching to junior team members.

Career Trajectory and Experience

Executive Chef: Typically has many years of culinary experience, often with formal training and a diverse range of kitchen roles leading up to this position.

Sous Chef: Usually has significant culinary experience but may be earlier in their career, using the role as a stepping stone to becoming an executive chef.

Earning Potential

Executive Chef: Executive chefs are often the highest culinary earners in a foodservice organization, with salaries ranging from $67,000 to $85,000 on average, and can go as high as $108,000.

Sous Chef: Sous chefs typically earn between $45,000 and $55,000, with potential earnings up to $91,000.

Also Read: 2024 Salary Ranges for 6 Chef Job Types (Executive, Pastry, Sous, etc)

A Suggestion For Chefs Moving Up In Your Culinary Career

Priorities in the culinary world are changing, and it's clear that whether you're aiming for the executive chef's hat or thriving as a sous chef, using technology to perform at higher levels (and help your employer lift the bottom line) is becoming a key differentiator when it comes to hireability.

Enter Galley, the culinary operating system built for chefs (and by chefs, not accountants) that simplifies everything from recipe management to inventory checks to creating batch production guides. 

Galley is a modern system designed to give foodservice organizations clarity and control over their operation. We connect the food data from all your systems and workflows to enable rapid decision-making (and fewer errors along the way), like…

  • Scaling up catering menus accurately in seconds (and creating scaled purchase orders to match)
  • Costing recipes and menus using your vendor’s real-time pricing data
  • Auto-generating production plans based on recipe preparation steps for optimal labor scheduling and task ordering

Want to try Galley for yourself? Just let us know.

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