My Exec chef is M.I.A., what should I do?

Joined Jun 20, 2016
Two months ago I took an offer to be a sous chef at a new seafood concept. The restaurant has still not opened. I was working one-on-one with the exec. Chef in our test kitchen and I have been involved in every aspect of creating the menu. I personally made about 30-40% of the menu items and I was involved in all spec decisions on breads/proteins/etc.

As of two weeks ago, we hired anyone person who was working in the test kitchen with us. He told me that when he asked them if he was a Sous, they said "I don't know", but he is acting like he is, which, needless to say is really frustrating. I give him instruction and most of the time he just says "yes I know...."

Within 2 days of this new person being hired, my exec. Chef found out that he has cancer. I don't know the severity of it but I do know that he is in a very bad place mentally. He took a few days off and ever since has been M.I.A. The last anyone has spoken with him was over a week ago and the last coversation was the Chef telling him that he quit.

Within this short time period, HR has hired 2 other guys to work in the kitchen. One being a sushi chef.

The problem that I am coming up with is that I have since absorbed all of the responsibility that my chef had. I finalized the menu, I am working on all documentation and pricing, and I was brought on to the hiring team and have been involved in interviews. Yesterday was the first day in our new kitchen and I placed all of the orders. The first gentleman who was hired insisted that he was capable of receiving the order because he has been doing it "all [his] life"... He messed it up and I spent over 2 hours correcting it. I calculated it and told him that if it happened every order it would cost of over $26k/year and tomorrow *I* will be receiving the order. I know that he is acting this way because I am young, 21, and fresh out of culinary school. He has been doing this for almost 15 years after he was out of the Air Force. I might be young but I know that I'm doing. End of story.

We need some level of authority drawn out in this kitchen. Part of me is afraid to ask the owner to verify this because he is not in the kitchen 24/7 and this man could have been hired on to be my equal, so I don't want to "put my foot in my mouth" if that is the case.

Should I ask for an outline of who is who in the kitchen?
How should I go about handling this guy in the kitchen in the meantime?
As for as I am concerned, the sushi chef IS my equal, and the 4th gentleman hired has not tried to step on my toes, he does what he is asked and nothing else.
Joined Aug 26, 2016
It sounds to me that your superiors need to clarify to you and the team the direction in which the communication should flow - chain of command, so to speak.

Unfortunately, you aren't in a position to determine whether you're in charge or whether he or somebody else is. I'd try to get that clarified as quickly as possible,because it sounds like your team needs that leadership now.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
You have to take charge.  If you can work with the sushi chef and split duties like he can do the day to day line management and scheduling and you can do the line and general inventory plus purchasing.

Or something.

Be prepared to work and lead your team by being there and never let them see you sit down.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
You were hired as sous chef. When chef is not in the kitchen, you are in charge. Chef is MIA, so he is not in the kitchen presently, which means you are in charge. Like @kuan said, take charge. Don't ask if you should do or need clarification on what you were hired to do. Do it until someone above you tells you differently.

I can understand where you are coming from given the circumstances, but as sous, you need to be a strong take charge type of guy and to ask for guidance or clarification during this episode will not be seen as supporting the fact that you possess those qualities.

If I were the owner of a plane that was flying over the ocean and I was in my office at the terminal at the time when the pilot suddenly disappeared, when I chose my new pilot, it would not be the co-pilot who needed to ask me for a line of authority while the plane was in flight. It would be the guy who jumped in and landed the plane safely.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
You need to speak with  the owner right away. He needs to clarify what is happening. Will he hire a new chef? Are you the chef? When is the original chef coming back? Is the original chef coming back?  Who holds what position? 

This is what I refer to as stating the obvious. WIth no direction from the owner, everyone is left to figure things out on their own. 

Before you get called out for overstepping your duties or begin doing the job of the chef, the owner needs to clarify the situation. 

If you are going to be the chef, then the owner needs to renegotiate your compensation and make it clear to everyone that you will be in charge. If he is not putting you in charge, what is he going to do? 

In the meantime, you work as a team the best you can. 
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Firstly, don't sweat the "Mr. I don't know new guy".  He's just looking for angles.  If he feels you are insecure about your position, he'll start to take over. "I don't know if I was hired as Sous",  what a load of crap.

I'm going with what everyone else said, you were hired from the beginning as Sous, and seeing as the Chef is temp. out of the picture, you will take charge.  I also feel you need to talk with the owners.  They are just as much surprised and confused as you are about their Chef.  Now is not the time to discuss salary increases, but something along the lines of :

"I can continue holding down the fort for 4 weeks, and I will do everything to my best ability.  But after that time we need to discuss long term plans"

The problem is, if you are good at your job after a few months, and the Chef never comes back, the owners will use you as Chef, but won't really pay you or otherwise compensate you.  This is not a good scene.

Wishing your Chef all the best, and hope you come out of this situation good. 
Joined Oct 31, 2012
 Now is not the time to discuss salary increases, but something along the lines of :

"I can continue holding down the fort for 4 weeks, and I will do everything to my best ability.  But after that time we need to discuss long term plans"

The problem is, if you are good at your job after a few months, and the Chef never comes back, the owners will use you as Chef, but won't really pay you or otherwise compensate you.  This is not a good scene.

Wishing your Chef all the best, and hope you come out of this situation good. 
An excellent suggestion. I should not have been so simplistic in addressing the salary issue.  Not the most important issue right now but definitely on the table. And I too am hoping for the best outcome for everyone involved. 
Joined Jun 20, 2016
So, I was able to speak with the owners about everything that has been going on. Luckily for me, the owner initiated the conversation. It turns out that the Exec. Chef will not be returning. We had a great conversation about the work that has been done since the chef has been gone and they said that they want me to be in charge of the kitchen. They will inform everyone of this tomorrow or the day after, to make sure that everyone is 100% on the same page. As a few people mentioned, I will be bringing up the topic of a pay raise, but right now I am making $18/hour + miles so I won't be complaining. When I start rolling in 50-60 hour weeks I know that the pay discussion will work itself out.

If anyone has an tips for running a NEW kitchen for the FIRST time, or any things that they wish they knew starting out, I would appreciate it.
Joined Aug 21, 2004
Goodatcha! Congratulations and give it hell.

Be friendly with staff, but don't be friends with the staff. Keep a separation. Be consistent in thoughts and actions. Leave no doubts about what your goals and philosophies are. Walk what you talk. Praise in public. Reprimand in private. Be open to suggestions and criticism. Listen to your staff, what they say and what they don't say; not all communication is verbal.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
First of all, Congratulations. It's nice to read something going well. Best of luck with the new job. 

I'll second what Cheflayne said. All good advice. 

     My first thought to add would be that "Everyone cleans". No prima donnas. They clean their own station, the walk in, the storage area, any where that needs it. They should be quite willing to grab a broom, a mop, a cleaning cloth or a bar of soap at any time and all the time. 

     While you should obviously be able and willing to cook, don't let any cook shame you for the paperwork. A kitchen is run as much by pen and paper as anything else. 

On that note, get regular sales reports from the POS system so you can track what sells and what doesn't. 

Computerize as much as possible. There are multiple threads here that will provide lots to think about. 

    You don't say how big the operation is but stay open to multiple suppliers and away from Sysco and the like.  Single source ordering may seem easier and convenient, the prices will kill you and the service sucks.

     Don't worry so much about being the greatest creative force in the kitchen. Your job is managing things. So allow everyone some input into menu items, plating, etc. Be open. 

Whenever possible, visit other restaurants to gather new and different ideas.  Start collecting great cookbooks to learn from. 

Get things organized well enough as you go so you can move on to other things but keep open to improvements on those things you have already done. 

      Learn from others but run your own ship.  . Don't worry about the competition. Develop your place into the best it can be and you won't have any competition. 

FOH and BOH are both equally important. Develop an atmosphere that fosters both working together seamlessly. 

Please check in once in awhile and let us know how it is all working out. 

Best of luck. 
Joined Dec 23, 2004
Congrats!  Lots to learn but it sounds like you're up to the task.  Some of my advice to a person just getting started in management is simple.
  • Be firm but respectful.  No one likes a petty tyrant.  Demand respect but give it as well.
  • Loyalty is a two way street.
  • Don't overlook dollars on the table to chase nickels on the floor. Watch the big picture.
  • That said, those nickels add up to dollars.  Don't let little leaks become a deluge.  Watch portion sizes, especially with proteins.  Being a half oz heavy over thousands of portions per month adds up.
  • Don't let the office side get away from you.  Speaking for myself, the paperwork is the thing I like the least. But it's critical to stay on top of.
  • Be consistent with the rules.  No special treatment for anyone and don't single anyone out for abuse.
  • Develop a system for day off requests and stick to it.  Hold staff accountable for punctuality.  And repay them by making sure you have the schedule done on time, respond to staffing requests in a timely fashion, etc.
  • Network.  Talk to other chefs, read some of the industry mags/websites.  You will get lots of new about trends in food, pricing trends, and legislation that affects businesses.
  • That said, don't chase trends.  Don't be the 10th place in town to roll out tapas/sliders/cajun/etc.
  • Be confident in yourself and your culinary vision, but don't let mistake dogmatic for confident.  Always critique your work and try to be objective.
  • Numbers don't lie.  They don't always tell you what you want to hear but they won't be ignored for long.
Again, congrats and good luck with the new gig.
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