The Simple Magic of “Mise En Place”

Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
garlic bulb spinach leaves on cutting board

by Brian Kelleher, Owner, 575° Pizzeria

If there’s any skill that I think would serve a novice chef, a weekend grillmaster, an overworked mom cooking for the family, or even an employee in a local restaurant, it is this…Mise en place.

First off, let me just say that I am a dad and a business owner.  I rarely cook or prepare meals at my restaurants anymore.  I don’t even cook that often at home.  I am not a trained chef, nor have I ever played on one TV.  Once, a long time ago though, I enrolled in a cooking class as part of one of my many college majors.  There were skills taught in this class, like proper knife-handling, how to cut an onion, how to make the four base, or mother, sauces of French cuisine, etc.  I have used many of these skills throughout the years to a very amateur extent.  But none of the skills taught in this class pervaded my life the way “Mise en Place” did.  Mise en place, is not only a culinary skill, it is a way of life for me (which is probably the source of much of my family and staff’s frustrations with me).  

Mise en place is a French culinary term meaning “putting in place” or “everything in its place”.  The culinary professor of this cooking class was so adamant we learned this concept that we spent at least a week or so learning about it.  Every assignment, thereafter, required us to address it.  But what does “everything in its place” mean?  In short, this is doing everything necessary prior to cooking in order to make the process of cooking go smoothly.  Here are just some of the many areas to consider:

  • In a recipe or kitchen, it is making sure you start with a completely clean workspace.  Don’t start with crowded countertops.  Don’t start with dirty dishes in the sink.  Don’t start with tripping hazards or distractions lingering about, like dogs or kids (send those outside to play, unless you’re training them, too.  Never too early to start training, but make sure they understand “mise en place”.  I find they usually go outside on their own when I bring this up). 
  • Preparing for the recipe, get EVERYTHING you need in the recipe OUT and PREPARED.  EVERYTHING!  Ingredients? Get ‘em out. Measuring cups? Get ‘em out. Spices? Get ‘em out. Spatulas, Whisks, Cutting Boards, Knives, Frying Pans, Baking Sheets? GET THEM OUT.  Read through the recipe (if you’re using one), and get out everything you might need.  (Most recipes don’t factor in the prep time of a novice chef…make time for the prep.) If you’re not using a recipe, get out everything you might need. This is part of being organized during the cooking process.  Make sure you have everything you need…WHEN YOU NEED IT!  Many people think this is “too much” or “it takes too long, I’m ready to cook now” or “I’m running late, I just have to get something on the stove”.  These people drive me crazy when they cook (if I’m around them, that is).  They appear stressed out, frazzled, unorganized; oftentimes, they are.  Rushing to grab the cheese for the burger after the burger is well done, or frantically looking for a spatula and the butter as their Kraft Mac N Cheese sticks to the bottom of a hot pot.  Anyone been there?  (Answer: We all have, and not just in the kitchen.) 
  • Setting the temps (and not just the oven).  You want to enjoy cooking? Start with lower heat and make it hotter as you need or want it.  Use butter or oil to test the heat of a frying pan, before dropping the food into the pan.  But don’t stop there.  Take some time to make sure the room is right, too.  Are the kids doing homework where you are trying to concentrate on dinner?  Are you the person that works better with a little music in the background?  Is your phone within reach?  Some distractions you can live with in the cooking process, but the less there are when you start cooking, the better.  

For novice cooks, nothing frustrates them more than distractions when they’re already feeling the anxiety of cooking.  Eliminate as many of these as possible in the pre-cooking phase. Remove the clutter. Organize your supplies and your utensils.  Put them within reach.  I do this, one, because I was taught to do it, and two, because I have to do it.  I get just as distracted and thrown off course if I don’t plan out my time in the kitchen.  It may take a while to get used to this extra preparation, so try to start earlier than you normally would.  Once you’ve done it a few times, you might notice that other areas of your life could use a little “mise en place”. 

“Mise en Place” was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Amarillo Magazine