The French phrase mise-en-place, or “put in place,” used in professional kitchens, refers to organizing and arranging the ingredients that a chef will need to prepare the menu items during a shift. It’s a practice that is as effective in home kitchens as it is in professional ones.
Mise-en-place demands organization and thoughtfulness, with emphasis on the preciousness of resources, space and time. It’s Zen-like, says one young sous chef of the central tenet of mise-en-place: working clean. Clean knives, clean cutting board, clear space, clear mind. Read here in NRO how mise-en-place can extend beyond the kitchen in helping to coordinate vast amounts of labor and material through focus and self-discipline.
Americans are obsessed with celebrity chefs. We talk about them, Tweet about them, and try to eat like them. But could we learn something more from them than recipes and technique?
According to Marketdata Enterprises, Americans spend nearly $10 billion a year on self-help and personal organization products. The market is huge, partly because most colleges and grad schools don’t teach basic organization. But culinary schools and professional kitchens do.
Perhaps the principles of culinary organization can be extended to help even those of us who aren’t top chefs.
The system that makes kitchens go is called mise-en-place or “put in place.” It a French phrase that means ‘to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.’
But for many culinary professionals the phrase connotes something deeper. Some cooks call it their religion. It helps them coordinate vast amounts of labor and material, and transforms the lives of its practitioners through focus and self-discipline.
“I know people that have it tattooed on them,” says Melissa Gray, a senior at the Culinary Institute of America. “It really is a way of life… it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.”
And it’s a habit that some culinary students carry with them even when they’re not in the kitchen. “You mise-en-place your life. You set up your books for class, you set up your chef whites, your shoes are shined, you know everything that you need every step of the day,” says Alexandra Tibbats, another student at the CIA.
Gray says that she now arranges her home office as she would her mise-en-place.”My desk is specifically organized based off of where I reach for things the most. [It’s] being so methodical to the point that you continually put your pen back in one specific place.”
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