Read as Christopher Yang talks about his career as a Sous Chef. Find him at www.tendergreens.com and on the Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I am the Sous Chef at Tender Greens Walnut Creek. I also run my own private catering business.
How would you describe what you do?
I create fine-dining quality food for an affordable price that people crave using seasonal and local ingredients.
What does your work entail?
At Tender Greens, I am charged with running the line as well as the front of the house. I make sure that the business runs as it should during the absence of the Executive Chef. We have a solid core menu, but we also create daily specials. We cure our own bacon, make our own sausage and also do whole animal butchery. I also take care of the hiring and firing process.
What’s a typical work week like?
My normal days off are Tuesday and Wednesday. Typically my work day starts at 10:30-11:00 and will end at about 9:30-10:00.
How did you get started?
I always enjoyed cooking, from a little boy sitting on the kitchen counter at my Grandma’s house. My family always cooked at home, so I was exposed to food very early on. It has always been a passion of mine to be a chef, so after college, I went to culinary school.
What do you like about what you do?
My favorite thing is people who come back because they like my food.
What do you dislike?
Sometimes having a fixed menu can get very repetitive. In order to stay inspired, I run daily specials. We also make our own sausage, do whole animal butchery and cure our own meats.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
We do get bonuses based upon our financial numbers.
How much money do Chefs make?
A chef’s salary can range from $30,000 all the way to $150,000 and up. It really depends on the restaurant and the chef.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
I was hired as a pastry cook and garden managar cook at my first restaurant. I was making $10/hr.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
I have been cooking my whole life, but I did go to culinary school. Many chefs opt not to go to culinary school and just get on the job training.
What is most challenging about what you do?
As a chef, not only do you have to run the line and be a culinarian, you need strong business and administrative experience. The more you move up as a chef, the more administrative work you will have. Not only are you in charge of the direction of the food, but you are also charged with running the business side of the restaurant.
What is most rewarding?
The favorite thing about being a chef is when I put a plate of my food in front of someone and their first reaction is “wow.” The goal of being a chef is to create food people crave.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Many chefs allow people to come in and “stage” which is working a couple hours as a cook to see a glimpse of how the restaurant industry works. Be prepared for lots of long days, nights and being on your feet all the time!
How much time off do you get/take?
I usually work 60 hour weeks, with 11-12 hour days. I get two days off a week.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
Many people think being a chef is a romanticized profession from the popularity of celebrity chefs on television. In reality, it is a very hard profession. Chefs work very long hours and many times it is very monotonous.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
My short term goals are to run the restaurant in Walnut Creek. My dream is to eventually have my own self-sustaining restaurant with its own farm and livestock.
What else would you like people to know about your job?
As stressful as my job is, this is what I love to do. I love food and I love to cook. As long as you remember why you started in this profession to begin with, you will always have fun, no matter what you are doing.