Nothing beats the adrenaline of a kitchen in a top-class restaurant. Expectations are running high, and time is running low. Plates are moving everywhere, out and in, and you hardly know what to do first. Assistant cooks and dishwashers have their hands full, and just when you finally think you will have ten minutes of rest, another big order arrives. Welcome to a life of a sous chef.
As you can probably deduce, you will have to demonstrate more than just excellent cooking skills in your interview. Ability to supervise and direct kitchen staff, stress resistance, excellent communication skills, imagination and creativity–all of it will be tested in your Sous Chef job interview. Let’s have a look at questions you will have to deal with.
Please tell us something about your experience from the kitchen.
Experience is pivotal in this job. You should have your work portfolio ready, with pictures of all the best dishes you’ve ever cooked. The goal is to show variety–as a sous chef you will be expected to bring in some new ideas, seasonal dishes, and tastes and flavors of kitchens from all around the world.
Do not forget to check their current menu, and the vision of their restaurant. What types of dishes they serve to their guests, what sort of dining experience they try to create in the place. Then, talking about your kitchen experience, you should pick the most relevant dishes and menus, relevant to their actual offer.
Why do you want to work in our restaurant, and not somewhere else?
Praise, praise, and praise. Restaurant owners and chefs are typically very proud on their menu and product (product is the restaurant in this case, the experience they serve the guest). Check their reviews on Google, Tripadvisor, and on other places online. Make notes and see what people praise and recommend. Say that you want to work for the best, and learn from the best chef, and that’s why you chose them.
Another alternative is the selection of meals and dishes. If you happen to have experience with something very similar (let’s say it’s a top class Italian restaurant and you worked in another Italian restaurant for five years), you can say that you’d like to continue in the same field, bringing your expertise onboard.
During peak times a kitchen can be a very hectic place. What do you do to maintain order and to ensure that all your assistants know what they should be doing?
My suggestion is to talk about system. That’s actually something many cooks are missing in their work, and the reasons why many kitchens are extremely hectic and messy. But you do not have to join their ranks, though you certainly have an artist in you, and artists detest order…
Anyway, say that you plan to set clear rules for your assistants, and exact system of work for the entire kitchen–who cuts vegetables, fries meat, washes dishes, who takes care of side dishes, etc. Of course seasoning and final touch is always your responsibility. Ensure the interviewers that with a good system, even the rush hour doesn’t have to be super hectic.
How would you rate yourself as a teacher? Can you teach cooks and other kitchen stuff?
You should not only give yourself a high rating, but also emphasize the importance of instructing, and helping your subordinates to become better cooks while they are working under you.
Actually this is another point where many cooks fail. They do not trust anybody with anything. They will rather spend 16 hours a day in a kitchen and let guests wait much longer than allow one of their assistants prepare a desert…
Ensure the interviewers that you do not belong to this group. You are an excellent cook but also a good leader and decent instructor, and you will do your best to help other people in the kitchen grow, and perhaps replace you one day–when you’ll promoted to the head chef :).
Look at our menu. Do you see any areas for improvement?
Now this is a tricky question, and a right answer depends on the person who leads an interview with you. If it is a restaurant owner, or manager, you should definitely suggest some improvements. They are hiring you to bring new ideas onboard, to enliven the menu created by their head chef.
Try to stick to the same philosophy though. For example, if they specialize in vegetarian and Indian cuisine, you should not suggest some meat dishes, or something their customers do not expect to find on the menu. But you can definitely suggest adding some interesting sauces or starters, or changing one or two ingredients in some of the dishes.
Situation differs when the chef leads the interview with you. In such a case you should praise their menu, at all costs. Chefs are very proud people, and in order to succeed in an interview you should tell them what they want to hear…
How do you feel about working 14 hours a day, or working on Sunday?
This likely isn’t your first job application in hospitality sector, and you already know the downsides. Surely, you won’t cook nonstop for 14 hours in one go. Each kitchen has high times and low times, and on some days (for example when heavy rain pours down from morning to evening), you may do nothing all day long, because no guests will arrive. But you still have to be in the kitchen, since they may arrive anytime.
Ensure the interviewers that you read the job description carefully, and know their opening hours. You would not apply for the job if you were not ready for long shifts.
You know that a job of a sous chef is no walk in the park, but you love your profession and have a lot of passion for cooking. And you also understand that someone has to work on Sunday, and on some Sundays it will be you.
Show some flexibility, and willingness to do something extra for your employer.
What do you do to adhere to all hygiene and safety standards in the kitchen?
Honestly, I saw enough restaurant kitchens to claim that almost nobody adheres to the standards…. Not in the middle of the shift. Maybe once in a month, when restaurant is closed and everything is deep-cleaned, and somebody arrives to check whether the kitchen meets the standards, they will somehow pass (or they manage to talk the inspector into giving them a green light, if you know what I mean).
In an interview, however, you should ensure the restaurant managers that you understand all rules and regulations (different temperatures in different freezers, regular disinfection, working with gloves, cleaning your knife hundred times an hour, always when you cut a different thing, etc). * These rules differ from one country to another and the purpose of this article is not to elaborate on them. You should check them before the interview.
Tell them that you will do everything to adhere to the rules, and will also instruct your coworkers to do the same thing.
What do you expect from your cooperation with the chef?
The hierarchy is important in every restaurant. Now, it really depends on the chef whether they will leave you a free hand while preparing dishes, or you’ll have to obey their orders from morning to evening. This may vary from one restaurant to another, and it may depend also on the chef’s mood on any given day :).
Tell the interviewers that you are ready to obey the chef. You have no expectations, but you believe to meet their expectations. And you can add that you know the chef and their skills, and are sure you’ll learn a lot from them in the job…
Some other questions you may get in your sous chef interview
- How do you plan to deal with the pressure in the kitchen?
- Do you think that we should introduce some seasonality to our menu? Looking at the current dishes, what changes would you suggest for the upcoming summer season?
- Describe a last time when you had a conflict with one of your coworkers. What exactly happened and how did you solve the conflict?
- How would you react if one of the customers complained about the quality of food you prepared?
- How long do you want to have this job?
- Can you accommodate special dietary requirements (gluten free, vegan) when preparing the various dishes from our menu?
- How would you describe outstanding customer service?
- What are your salary expectation?
- After everything that has been said in this interview, do you have any questions?
Conclusion, next steps
Interview for a job of a sous chef belong to tricky job interviews. It is hard to predict exactly what will happen, and what will they ask you, becasue different people can lead your interview, and a chef will ask you totally different questions than a restaurant manager will.
In any case, you should prepare a portfolio of your best works (this can include prizes and other forms of recognition you got for your work), and do a good research about their restaurant, and their menu. Then you should prepare for the questions I showed you in this article, and hope for the best :). I wish you good luck!
May also interest you:
- Restaurant interview questions – List of questions you can get in any restaurant, regardless of the position you try to get with them.
- Salary negotiation tips – You can definitely get more than what they initially offer you in a sous chef interview. Lear how you can do so.
- How to overcome interview nerves – Stress can kill your chances in any interview. Learn how to overcome it and deliver your best on the big day.
- Line cook interview questions – Some questions may overlap, it makes sense to check also this article.