There is a phrase that is quintessential in any working kitchen. It is one of the first things you learn either in school, or on the job at the lowest position they are willing to hire you at. I am talking about mise en place (meez ahn plahs). Some of you may have heard this phrase before. Some of you may not have any idea what it is I am talking about. But for the rest of you, let me explain. In its most literal interpretation, mise en place is a French term meaning “to put in place” or “everything in its place”. The idea is that before you can properly cook anything you must first gather and prepare the ingredients to be cooked as well as assemble any and all tools and equipment needed to cook them.
Essentially, the concept of mise en place (also known as mise for short) is to have at hand everything you need to prepare in an organized and efficient manner. Proper mise can consist of just a few items or can be quite extensive. At work I try to gather up as many as the ingredients I will be preparing that day early on as this will save me time and effort. At home I make sure I have all my spices as well as my meats and vegetables at hand before I turn on the stove.
Coordinating multiple tasks is also important. An organized cook will think about everything that needs to be done. Taking time to mentally plan out your task can eliminate unnecessary steps and conserve resources. Proper mise also requires a good sense of timing. Knowing how long to wait before starting one dish or another is key. You would not want to start cooking rice when your meat is almost done!
At first glance gathering your mise en place may seem counter intuitive. Why wait to start cooking when I could be chopping or doing something else while something is on the fire? First of all you want to give what you are cooking your full attention, especially in the early stages. Secondly, because of your divided attention, you are actually taking more time to prepare something. If you take the time to just concentrate on your prep, when it comes to putting your dish together that will be the only thing to focus on.
That is not say you can’t get one dish going and then move on to the next one. If you are working on a dish that takes some time on the stove you don’t have to babysit it once you get it going. you can work on other things. Use that time to get something else going. Multi tasking is an essential part of any chef’s repertoire.
Hopefully this article will help you in the kitchen. Just remember that before you do anything, put everything in its place!
Photos provided by mychefquinn.com and fabulousfoods.com.