Sous Chef Issue

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by chefkat, Aug 12, 2014.

  1. chefkat

    chefkat

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    Anyone have advice on how to deal with a sous chef who tends to make me feel unwelcome in my own kitchen? I have a small restaurant with room for only 4 chefs at a time. One of my two sous is good at her job, though she tends to make me feel unwelcome in my own kitchen or regularly question my authority. Not even sure she realizes she is doing it, but it's like a power struggle or something.

    My staff and I are all around the same age, but I am the exec chef and restaurant owner, so my plate is extremely full. We don't abide by a rigid brigade system, but I expect and deserve respect as the chef and owner. I appreciate having sous who are able to manage the daily kitchen operations in my absence, but I need to feel welcome in my own kitchen at the very least.

    Any suggestions for how to deal with this? I am sick of feeling anxious every time I go into work knowing she is there. We are supposed to be a team, and I shouldn't feel uncomfortable working with her. I don't want to make things more awkward by bringing it up, and I'm not sure the best way to do it. 
     
  2. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    Confrontation even with good intentions is never easy but avoidance can lead to more disastrous results which many times cannot be mended.

    Sit down with her and tell her pretty much what you told us.
    Ask for her ideas, input, and help in rectifying the situation.
     
    sfgray likes this.
  3. chefross

    chefross

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    Stop calling them Chefs for one thing as they are not. You are the only Chef there and they are simply cooks.
     
  4. chefedb

    chefedb

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    RMEMBER one thing, They wok for you  you  are the  boss.. They are  cooks only and I a small

    operation you don't need all sous'
     
  5. chefkat

    chefkat

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    Thanks, I need to work on my chef boss thing, which can be difficult as we are all the same age and my resume isn't super long. 

    Not all my cooks are sous chefs, I have two who split the week in managing the kitchen and the other cooks (we are open every day), so that I am no longer chained to the stove as I was the first few years.

    The kitchen is where I am happiest... as long as I'm not stressed about the mountain of paperwork and billing I need to get to.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2014
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  6. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    I seem to get my best results when I use the mindset of getting people to work with me rather than for me by attempting to use influence and example, as opposed to authority. If that doesn't yield the results that I want, then I remind them that they do indeed work for me. If that doesn't sink in, then they don't work for me.
     
  7. youngchefkarl

    youngchefkarl

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    everybody at The French Laundry is called chef, even at the commis level. But i know what you were trying to say and you're right, OP is the boss.
     
  8. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    I'm with Chef Ross, I think calling anyone that cooks food in a pro kitchen "chef" is a bit hill billy. I think if someone is making you uncomfortable in your kitchen, the solution is to not feel uncomfortable.
     
  9. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    I think you first need to make a solid decision whether or not this is acceptable to you in the long run,

    say over the next 2 years, or if it's something you need to rectify. If you  need to change it, you alone as

    owner have the power to do so. She may work "with you" but she still works FOR you--if she thinks she

    has, or is trying to assert, power of some kind then she is conning her own ego.

    And its up to you to set the record straight for all concerned.

    The next time she's in an unusually superior mood and  pulls something you can actually point to, tell her you

    and her need a meeting. I think this may be a validation/prestige problem with her, in fact her "get out of my kitchen" air when youre around might well be masking lack of confidence when youre closeby watching.

    So you might start out positive, pointing out her value to you. Then tell her you sense some resentment, etc.

    And cite examples. You might remind her that its up to her to to do the adjusting, its your place not hers.

    If all that fails, why not start looking for a cook with both skill AND a good attitude?

    I'm also curious--where did she get her initial training? I sense a long-ago spoiled culinary student lurking

    in their somewhere.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2014
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  10. harrisonh

    harrisonh

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    I think ego is a big issue in our line of work. But as your sous expects to have her title respected, she should respect yours too. I would have a talk  with her. This will help her personal and professional development. Part of the sign of a great chef is whom he has groomed to succeed. IF she is that good, have her help with the next menu development cycle, have her take more of a mentoring role for the prep and line cooks. IF she's a mentor, her ego will be stroked and she'll be happy and the added responsibility of a mentor will tone down her attitude. She is not going to work for you forever. When she is working at her new kitchen, her skill set and attitude will reflect your kitchen to the new kitchen, to the industry and maybe to savvy foodies that follw chefs.

    It is your kitchen, and she needs to defer to you and if she dissents, she needs to do so with respect.
    Is she that great as a chef or that great as a leader in prep or on the line that she is worth putting up with this? if so, then grin and gear it. Even if you are too sensitive, the success of the business might be worth a bit of discomfort if you're also the owner. You can cry all the way to the bank if she's that good.


    I saw other people post about whether the staff are cooks or chefs. Without knowing more, this is a VERY good point. If you have 4 cooks, and you're the exec, maybe one other person might be a chef. The others are probably cooks. If you've got a bigger staff of 20 cooks, you might have 1-2 more that have a title. An exception might be if you expect the front of house to have proper respect for

    IF the anecdote about French Laundry is true. You'd probably have to be a real chef in a real restaurant even to interview to be a commis at French Laundry. MANY chefs I know would be happy to be a pot washer there. I would if I could afford to do it.
     If Keller (or you) wants to call a commis a chef in his kitchen, that's his (your) choice no matter what the rest of us say. But we have good intentions by giving you the advice we did.

    And a commis at French Laundry, probably DOES have the skill set to be called chef at any other place on the planet. The other reason might be the respect that is owed by the front of house. Front of house should worship the ground even a commis walks on. And it may be that Keller enforces that. The guy that cooks rice at Sukiyabashi Jiro could be a master in any kitchen on the planet.

     
     
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  11. chefross

    chefross

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    QUOTE......"IF the anecdote about French Laundry is true. You'd probably have to be a real chef in a real restaurant even to interview to be a commis at French Laundry. MANY chefs I know would be happy to be a pot washer there. I would if I could afford to do it.
     If Keller (or you) wants to call a commis a chef in his kitchen, that's his (your) choice no matter what the rest of us say. But we have good intentions by giving you the advice we did.

    And a commis at French Laundry, probably DOES have the skill set to be called chef at any other place on the planet. The other reason might be the respect that is owed by the front of house. Front of house should worship the ground even a commis walks on. And it may be that Keller enforces that. The guy that cooks rice at Sukiyabashi Jiro could be a master in any kitchen on the planet."


    I do believe that the people who cook for The French Laundry come from all walks of life, and don't all have the knowledge and experience that many think they do.

    They are trained just as any kitchen Chef would do.

    This is simply higher end.

    No need to put these people on some pedestal.
     
     
  12. harrisonh

    harrisonh

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    wow, didn't know that. Thanks for the info! What an opportunity for someone living in the area!

    We have two "community kitchen" type programs in my city that helps people with chronic unemployment, homelessness, ex-offenders. They teach them life skills, food safety, and they prepare the staff meals for the parent organizations so they have actual experience of prepping and even a few weeks on the line. I think it's awesome and I support them with donations and by visiting.

    We also have two major private culinary schools in our city, (LCB and the previous LCB licensee Arizona Culinary Institute), and one of the very best college culinary programs in the nation. That's why my perception was skewed to think that Keller only took the best.  I made an unfounded assumption. But the vast majority of even prep cooks in my city came from a culinary school or at least took a six month program like I described. I also know of several restaurants that only take CIA and LCB graduates to apprentice. I assumed keller would be almost that picky. Again, I made a poor assumption.

    But I still stand behind my claim that even the guy that makes rice at Jiro is a master. They have to apprentice seven years before they even get to do that.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
  13. kaiquekuisine

    kaiquekuisine

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    Why would Thomas Keller only allow culinary school grads to work for him, if he himself never attended culinary school, that would make him a bit of a hypocrite...

    Now about Jiro, lets remember food in Japan, is sacred. I remember in Iron Chef Japan, after Bobby Flay beat Morimoto, he got up on the kitchen table and held out his cutting board or something like that, and Morimoto almost fainted, called him a disgrace to the culinary world etc...

    They are rigid, but i would also like to say in Japan women can´t even make sushi. Nowadays there is even restaurants in Japan with only women sushi chefs, and they only did 7 week courses and seem to be producing great food lol. Im pretty sure a employee at Jiro learns how to make rice after a few months of just watching and talking to other cooks, especially if he already has experience, the fact that one employee is waiting 7 years to get authorized to do so, just means he respects  the chef and owner, and wants to have that on his resume.... 

    As for Thomas Keller, the guy is great and all, but im sure there are many chefs out their superior to him, working in underground restaurants producing great food, and will probably never achieve fame. 

    The guys working at the French Laundry aren´t gods, some just think they are...
     
  14. alaminute

    alaminute

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    My old chef went to school in France and didn't finish but he still went on to work fish at the French laundry. This was back in the days when grant achatz was sous there though. I know he encourages education (he has a clip on YouTube about it) but I'm pretty sure it's not mandatory.
     
  15. kingfarvito

    kingfarvito

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    I assume you're in the phx area? I am as well, and I've never even set foot in a culinary school. I've worked some nice places and have a trial coming up for one of the nicer places in the city. We're not all culinary graduates. 
     
  16. hanna216

    hanna216

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    Your Sous is a direct reflection of you as a Chef.  Per the role, you are there to teach and mentor.  When accepting the position/job - they should understand that in any kitchen, there is the chain of command.  At the end of the day, they are your employee and right hand person - the person you need to trust more than anyone in the kitchen to uphold YOUR standards and YOUR expectations.  If there is a rift, there is a problem.

    Regardless of the length of your resume, it is something your sous should understand.  They are there to learn how to eventually be you.  If they believe they are at your level or exceed your level, it's time for them to move on to their own kitchen rather than question the operations of your kitchen.

    I would sit down and talk to your sous and always ask questions - ask them how they feel they are doing, what they think needs improvement and how to make things better/run more smoothly.  Always with respect.  The talk between the two of you should be a lot about your sous' opinions and thoughts.  Then take what they say into consideration and think about it.  Are these ideals of theirs the same that run in line with yours?  Are they the thoughts of someone you WANT as your #2?  If so, talk to your sous about both of your roles and explain that you are there to teach your sous how to be the executive chef.  Tell them everything you have just told us - things you are unhappy/uncomfortable with.  If they see the light, great.  Cross your fingers and make sure it isn't a pile of bull.  If it's a big steaming heap, it's probably time to find a sous who is there to BE *your* sous.  To be cultivated, to learn and to grow.

    At the end of the day - your kitchen is your home.  It is where your heart and soul find fire.  You should never feel uncomfortable in your own kitchen.  It's up to you to fix it however necessary.  A one on one talk is always a great place to start.
     
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  17. michaelga

    michaelga

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    ...   this is your first problem.  

    Learn what a Chef is and then you learn how to work with them.
     
  18. Iceman

    Iceman

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    "CHEF" is only a vocabulary word. You either have skills ... or you don't.

    We work in kitchens ... It ain'te rocket surgery.
     
  19. mikeswoods

    mikeswoods

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    When I was new to the business I received this good advice.

    "Sometimes you need to fire an employee. It is necessary to keep your business healthy. Don't put it off."

    This employee will cause a revolution in your operation. If you are uncomfortable working around her,what do you think the other employees think?

    And stop slapping fancy titles on your employees. They will figure out who they are.--Mike---
     
  20. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    Shows how much you know, it's rocket SCIENCE!  Brain SURGERY!  ;)