Mise en Place

Literal translation "set in place". A professional culinary term referring to the complete assemblage of all the ingredients, preparations and tools that a cook will require for a service period.
Mise en place has several layers of meaning. The broadest expession of this concept plays out in the demanding world of high-level restaurants, where it represents a discipline of readiness used daily to ensure correct, consistent, timely and healthy production of foods to the standards of the Chef. That can encompass everything from "mental mise en place"- entering the workday with focus and a clear understanding of the work, as well as a plan for getting it done- right on down to the actual assembly of however many different food preparations are needed to create any menu item that the station is responsible for. Gathering, prepping and storing this collection in time requires the adherence to a rigid, often-tight schedule, and a logical system of production. No detail is too small and the order, neatness and consistency that a cook brings to a station cannot be over-emphasized. All stations must be set and ready to go before service begins. Every service. Every day.

That's mise en place, as well as a brief explanation of why Chefs can be so high-strung...

Thankfully, home cooking and professional cooking have virtually nothing in common. Seriously, home cooks have it so much better! We cook for family and friends; our efforts are driven by love and interest and hunger and caring. We have the autonomy to make what we like, how we like and when we like- or at least up until we have to feed the picky 7-year old. And even then, we heat the chicken nuggets with love!

So what could mise en place possibly have to do with the home cook? Well, at its most rudimentary level, mise en place is the practice of preparing to cook first, so that when you do cook, it comes out better. And that makes sense, right? Clearly, having everything you need, in the form you need it will help you avoid mistakes, particularly with new recipes and first-time efforts. Assembling your ingredients and tools beforehand eliminates concern, and helps you proceed with focus and attention. And even if you do make a mistake, you'll be more likely to learn from it because your activities were more organized. That's huge, because we cook for a lifetime; there's plenty of learning and improving to do!
But this small injection of structure can also lead to greater things. Mise en place can help the home cook recognize a perceptual and practical divide between "prep" part of making food and the "cooking" part of making food. And when a cook sees that, a lot can happen. A smart cook will quickly recognize that they can prep ahead when their schedule allows it, or double-up today on something you know you can use tomorrow. Mise en Place makes you start to think ahead and it saves you time overall. You will also find that after-the-meal clean up is easier because mise en place creates a logical time to dispatch of prep mess. And the mental separation of tasks makes it easier to delegate small jobs that are manageable for anyone who wants to lend a hand. For example, you can't ask the picky 7-year old to make the lasagna, but he may enjoy emptying the ricotta cheese into a bowl and adding 6 eggs...Yes, a little structure can go a very long way, and that's the lesson mise en place holds for the home cook.

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