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A Day in the Life of a Sous Chef at an Upscale Restaurant

A Sous Chef's Typical Day: The Prep

As a sous chef at an upscale Macungie, Pennsylvania restaurant specializing in French country cuisine, Ryan Lukow's day begins the night before. Each evening, he writes a prep list for the next day's dinner menu. When he arrives for work, his first mission is to review that prep list. "I double check what I need to do first," he says.

Food is delivered every other day from a variety of purveyors. Lukow stores it carefully, keeping everything as fresh as possible.

Next, he begins the first stage of his culinary routine: preparing the items that take the most time. "If we're doing braised items, they're usually the first to get going," he says. Next may be butchering meats. "Depending on the cut, they'll need to be broken down into portion sizes. For example, if we're preparing rib eye, we'll get the whole rib eye, and you have to trim it down to however we're preparing it that night."

It can take four to five hours just to get ready for the evening, says Lukow, who works in the small kitchen at the Savory Grille with chef Shawn Doyle.

Small Kitchen Allows Sous Chef to Be Creative

The menu is constantly changing because the restaurant features what's in season. Lukow likes contributing new ideas. "We bounce ideas back and forth," he says. "We like to consider what's fresh and what's available, and to change the menu so we don't ever get stuck in a rut."

Weekdays are more relaxed than weekends. Around 4:00 pm, with the menu decided, the chef prints it out, "and we're ready to go," Lukow says. Patrons start arriving between 5:00 and 5:30.

"We're a small kitchen, so we operate a little differently than most," Lukow says. "Some nights it's myself, the chef and a dishwasher. Other nights we have a person help us doing salads, appetizers, and desserts in the back, where we prepare the cold items. I'm usually on the hot line, which is where the stoves and oven grills are."

Even though it can get hectic, Lukow's favorite part of the day is when dinner is served. "You get addicted to the adrenaline rush of being busy," he says. "It's almost controlled chaos. It can get really hectic and there is lots of running around. You've got to love the pressure and the stress--all things that to some might seem negative, but to me aren't."

Culinary Degree Helps Sous Chef Cope with Hectic Pace of  Kitchen

It helps, Lukow says, that he learned the basics of professional cooking while earning his culinary degree from Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

After dinner, it's clean up, home to eat something, go to bed, and start all over. Lukow doesn't mind the 11- to 12-hour days as a sous chef. "I generally put in 50 to 60 hours a week. That's common for this area. But you go to a restaurant in a big city and it can be 70 to 90 hours, depending on the type of place where you're working."

Lukow can't see himself anywhere else or doing anything else. "I love the creative freedom I get here," he says. "And that's hard to find. It keeps me constantly thinking, and you don't get bored easily."

Sources:

  • Lukow, Ryan. Interview by Beth W. Orenstein 7 Oct. 09.