"Mise en Place", a State of Mind
This article is revamped from the original that I posted on LinkedIn, March, 2014. I've quoted this kitchen term, "Mise en Place", in many of my posts and someone asked me the other day what the actual meaning of the term is. I will let the article speak for itself but basically it is the ethos/principle/code of the kitchen. It is the Preparation needed in order to be able to perform our job. There is "mise" needed for every job, Preparation that has to be done in order for YOU to do your job; a contractor needs blueprints, a surgeon needs x-rays/diagnosis, a taxi driver needs gas, etc. Everyone needs some type of preparation in order to do their job. Everyone's job is different and their levels/expectations of "mise en place" is different, in many jobs some or all of the preparation is done by someone else. Our jobs in the kitchen are unique in that we are solely responsible for ALL of our own preparation, we are seriously "under the gun" regarding time from the moment we walk into the kitchen until the last guest of the day is served,(that's sometimes up to 14 hours a day), it's a "live show", constantly, no "dress rehearsals". Please understand I'm not whining, I LOVE it! By that same token we are also the masters of our own destiny.
(For those of you that wonder why I love my job; https://www.bebee.com/producer/@randall-burns/choose-a-job-that-you-love-and-you-ll-never-work-a-day-in-your-life-confucius )
This article is geared toward Culinarians but the concepts can be applied to any "job", task, project, etc. It is not just preparation, it is an exercise in efficiency.
"Mise en Place", A state of mind
Where do I begin?
Literal translation, “everything in its place”;
“Mise en Place”; what an exquisite phrase, it slides right off the tongue, effortlessly, like a lightly seared fresh sea scallop drizzled with a rich lemon Beurre blanc, garnished with a chiffonade of fresh “fine herbs” and shaved truffles…
Seriously, mise en place is the principle, the base, the philosophy that rules every cook’s life; it is a term not just applied to your prepared ingredients, your fridge with prepped meats, your base sauces, stocks, garnishes, etc. ready to assemble; it is your organization, your knowledge, your ability to work with others, (kitchen work is definitely a team activity), your mental ability and preparedness. It is a philosophy; a state of mind! There are so many meanings, connotations and levels of “mise en place” that you’re constantly fine tuning your perception and definition of it. A Cook’s life revolves around “mise en place” and it’s what “makes you, or breaks you”. You’re only as good as your mise en place. It encompasses your prep, cooking, serving, menu design and execution; your ordering, scheduling, managing of the kitchen. The concept of “mise en place” can be applied to virtually any circumstance or scenario. It has taken me years to begin understanding this application to ALL facets of the kitchen, of business, of life; it’s not just my tray with chopped shallots, garlic, various herbs, garnishes, etc. all ready to go into the frying pan ‘ala minute”, it’s applicable to any strategy or action, ; and I’m still learning this every day.
For such a small, eloquent phrase it carries a lot of power, weight and meaning.
Cleanliness/Hygiene and organization is an integral part of “mise”, they go hand in hand, the sooner you recognize and embrace this fact the further ahead “of the game” you will be. The perfect example of this is many years ago, when I was in in my formative years, LMAO!!!, (I laugh because I’m still in my “formative years”, maybe even more so than ever), a Chef gave me the perfect example.
As the Chef walked by my station he asked me if I was ready for service to which I responded yes. My station was organized, prepped and ready to go, (or so I thought). The Chef then placed his hand palm down on my cutting board and on lifting it up revealed numerous small particles/crumbs stuck to his palm. He looked at me and said that I was not ready, he said that those crumbs represented the "loose ends", the "unfinished business", the lack of organization that was in my head that would distract me from the job at hand.. He pointed out that every single crumb was a detraction from my attention, added more to the "smoke screen" that would be a stumbling block for me once the peak of service was on us. Chef explained to me that mise en place was not just my prepped items but my intellectual/psychological "approach" to my job and as such I needed to eliminate anything that was not necessary, was "clutter", and would be a distraction to me. Those "crumbs" on my cutting board reflected the clutter in my mind that would impede my progress.
This was a poignant lesson for me, I understood what Chef was telling me, it made sense to me. This is just one aspect of how mise en place can be described and I could elaborate greatly on this. I could also go on and on about the many other aspects but I'm curious to hear what other people's perceptions of mise en place is. I know that we could all discuss at length our ideas but I would be very interested in hearing any "quotes" from you that personify and express the idea of "mise" to you.I will leave you with a few quotes that have stuck with me throughout the years, some you may have heard, maybe there's one or two new ones for you to ponder.
“Mise en Place is a state of mind...”
“Mise en Place is the state that if I were to keel over and die, my kitchen would continue to run for 3 days without interruption or a hiccup...”
“an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...”
“No matter how much they try, they will never catch me with my pants down."
"Mise en Place is the ultimate weapon against "Murphy's Law"
“seeing the unforeseeable...”
“Being busy when you’re not busy so that when you are busy you’re not busy”
"A clean kitchen is an efficient kitchen"
“Be pro-active, not reactive...”
“It’s easier to keep yourself out of the “Shit” rather than try to work your way out of it once you’re in it...”
“With the right organization and mise en place you can accomplish anything...”
“90% of your employee issues/staff management problems can be prevented/resolved through proper interview, hiring, and training practices...”
“A “jump start” on controlling food cost is accomplished through conscientious purchasing and inventory management...”
Here's a few quotes from other articles;
" Mise en Place; This is by far the best weapon that you have in your arsenal to battle stress."
" If you have a sound mise en place mentality in your kitchen it shouldn’t affect you..."
“Mise en Place is the ethos of the kitchen”,
" I would like to point out that this is not even the main thrust of our work day. Our day is spent with “mise en place...
... Without the right “Mise en Place” we would be unable to serve our customers."
In closing I would like to bring one up here that I learned very recently from fellow Chef David Buchanan that really struck a chord in me. It's something I've learned or have been taught over the years but I've never heard this particular concept expressed so succinctly or efficiently, (that in itself is an example of "mise"). It is a great example of the state of mind of Mise en Place. Sorry to take your thunder away Chef David but this is brilliant, I'm sure that you have others that you can share with us.
"Seconds save minutes..."
Happy Cooking Everyone!