Change Your Kitchen Routine, Change Your Life: Practice Mise En Place
Mise en place, a French term meaning “put into place,” or “everything in its place,” is the first rule for running a professional kitchen. The simple description of mise en place is making sure all of the ingredients and tools needed for cooking are prepared and ready to use before you heat the cooktop. It helps chefs coordinate the roles of the kitchen staff and materials.
In practice, mise en place is an organizational philosophy that will also work in your home kitchen. And its role goes much deeper. The principals of mise en place can be applied to everyday life. Some say it is a way of life.
The concept of mise en place has its roots around the time of the French Revolution, when kitchen (cuisine in French) workflows started to be organized according to military structure. Georges Auguste Escoffier is associated with formalizing the rigid structure of brigade de cuisine, including the roles of chef de cuisine, sous-chefs below the chef, chefs de partie (various stations), etc.
What’s involved in mise en place?
- Visualizing each step you will take to complete a task
- Making a list
- Gathering supplies and recruiting people to help
- Doing the “prep work” – from cutting vegetables to cleaning the hob
- Arranging everything within reach or nearby
Wylie Dufresne, James Beard award-winning chef and owner of successful New York restaurants, said in an interview with National Public Radio, “It starts with your list…Let’s say I had 23 items of mise-en-place I had to do every day. So, I’d take a pad and write them all down on the way home. And then I would crumple the list and throw it out.”
Dufresne would write the list again on his way to work. “You become one with the list. You and the list are the same, because the list is scorched in your head.”
In his book, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain famously wrote, “Mise en place is the religion of all good line cooks.” A line cook’s “meez” is an extension of his or her nervous system. “The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: you know where to find everything with your eyes closed, everything you need during the course of the shift is at the ready at arm’s reach, your defenses are deployed.”
What is the mise en place mindset?
- Can you focus on what needs to be done in the moment?
- Are you able to minimize distractions in order to concentrate and work efficiently?
- Is everything you need (to cook, to work at your desk, etc.) precisely mise en place before you begin?
Mise en place is practiced in high-end restaurants and street cafes around the world. It’s a system taught in culinary schools. Whether you are in a kitchen in Beijing or London, a form of mise en place rules.
“The Cantonese kitchen is all about structure and hierarchy,” says Man-Ip Fung, Executive Chef at two Michelin-starred Duddell’s restaurant in Hong Kong. Japanese chefs don’t use the term mise-en-place, but they use similar organizational concepts. Jun-bimeans to set up or prepare and sei-ri is sorting or arranging.
Keeping your work area clean and uncluttered is another central idea behind mise en place. In the restaurant business, it is known as “working clean.” For health and safety reasons, keeping everything clean is mandatory when prepping and serving food. Cleaning as you go also saves time in the long run.
“Mise is not about making things tidy, it’s not about things looking clean. It’s about being able to work clean, which implies motion. The system has to be returned to order,” according to Dan Charnas, author of the book, Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-En-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind. He answered questions about his book in an interview with Food & Wine magazine.
Charnas describes how he either finishes a project or leaves everything in place so he can quickly pick it up again. “Because that’s going to save me 20 minutes, I can use that 20 minutes to do other kinds of work or I can use that 20 minutes to be with my kid and read him a story.”
Practice mise en place and find time for what’s important.
It is not all about making lists and lining up food/equipment. Creating a daily plan, gathering the resources (and people) you need and following a process are the tools of mise en place. The results of practicing mise en place can be quite satisfying.
- Organizing your day in advance frees your mind for other things. It can help you avoid being late or falling behind because you have allotted time for the things on your list. When things don’t go according to plan, you can re-prioritize your list instead of feeling overwhelmed.
- Visualizing each step of a process, starting and following through takes discipline that is well worth the effort. With practice and consistency, processes start to flow.
- Mise en place requires you to be fully present in the moment, whether you are cooking or managing a staff meeting.
It’s been said that mise en place can induce a Zen-like state of calm in the midst of chaos. Charnas puts it this way:
“It’s not just about organizing space, it’s actually about how you relate to space, how you relate to time, how you relate to motions within that space, how you relate to managing resources, how you relate to managing people, how you relate to managing your personal energies, all of that. For whatever ironic reason, those spiritual wisdoms have fallen to the chefs.”
According to Thomas Keller, acclaimed chef/owner of the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, California and Bouchon Bakery in Dubai, “Whether it’s mise en place for a meal or service or for life, it’s all the same thing. Prepare yourself today for tomorrow.”