PUT IN PLACE

PUT IN PLACE

It’s the first thing they teach you in chef school:  a system called mise-en-place, or literally, “put in place.”   It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.

The mise evolved out of the rigid “brigade system” of culinary hierarchy codified in the 19th century by Chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier.

This system emphasizes focus and self-discipline and a high level of organization and order.

Escoffier would probably have agreed with Ben Franklin who once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

In the high-stress world of the professional chefs, planning and preparation are paramount.  How else could they prepare so many meals of exceptional quality, one after the other in a three-hour period, night after night after night?

Preparation is the essence of mise-en-place.

BASIC MISE

At its most basic, mise-en-place means to set out all of your ingredients before you start to cook.

Measure out what you will need, chop the vegetables that will need to be chopped, and have everything ready on the counter or in small bowls on a tray.

In the following YouTube video, “How to Mise-en-Place, published by Cooking Light, Chef Keith Schroeder, author of MAD DELICIOUS: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing!, demonstrates how home cooks can start to “mise” their recipes.

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

If you talk to professional chefs, that part of the mise-en-place is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  Some of them get downright Zen or Jedi about it.  Everything has to be in place, including your stance and your mindset.

Writer Dan Charnas, of hip-hop journalism  fame, wrote a book last year, WORK CLEAN:  The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind.  It grew out of his interviews of dozens of culinary professionals and executives and focused on his understanding of mise-en-place as a personal code of ethics that emphasized excellence.

As Charnas says in an article he wrote for National Public Radio, “….most colleges and grad schools don’t teach basic organization.  Culinary schools and professional kitchens do.”

This YouTube video, “The Ingredients of Work Clean,” published by Rodale Press shortly before the book came out, contains a brief explanation of what it is: a simple system that helps you focus your actions and accomplish your aims

  • Planning is prime. Be ruthlessly honest about time and timing.  It’s the only way you can set it up right.
  • Arrange spaces so you can perfect moves. Place things so you can make your moves with just the flick of your fingers.  Know how you move and place your dishes of prepared ingredients and your tools right where you will be able to reach them when it’s time to use them.
  • Clean as you go. Keep your tools and your station as organized as when you first started.  This knife goes in this space.  The chopped chives go right there. Everything that is no longer needed does not belong at your station.  You’ll need it later so if you’ve got a breathing space, wash up the thing you’ve used and put it aside for when you’ll next need it.
  • Know what to start first. Start the longest process first.  It will be done by the time you get to the shortest process and by the time you’re done, you’ll be at the end.
  • Do not wait to finish. It isn’t finished until it’s delivered.  As soon as it’s ready, let it go.
  • Slow down to speed up. Don’t panic when things get hectic.  Calm your body, calm your mind.  Hurry opens the door to mistakes.  Get it right, and fast will happen.
  • Open your eyes and ears. Balance your internal and external awareness.  Remain focused and open.   Be receptive.  React as needed to the world around you but stay focused on what you are doing.
  • Call and call back. Streamline and confirm essential communications.  Follow up, update your team and turn information into intel you all can use to work together well.
  • Inspect and correct. Excellence requires vigilance.  Check your work.
  • Aim for total utilization. Avoid wasting time, space, motion, resources or persons.  Figure out how to tap into the flow of using them all and making them move in the direction you want them to go.  Look to create a synergy that you can step into.

The real is that mise-en-place is about being able to “work clean.”  It’s not about “creating order,” as in, “Gee, wow, I’ve organized my desk and doesn’t it look clean and cool?”

What mise-en-place says is, “I’m committed to move through all of these many steps I need to do and get them done right.  When I’ve finished with all the steps of this project  I am on now, I’ll wrap it up and deliver it.  Then I’ll resume my stance at my station, put myself in a position where everything is in place for me to work on the next project, and I’ll deliver that one.

With mise-en-place you can repeat as needed for as long as necessary and it all gets done right every time.  You think about the process of making something from start to finish, and then you set up a system so you can get it done.

The system you create and maintain will allow you to stay focused on the most important thing at each moment.  What you need to do to accomplish something gets done faster and more proficiently because everything you need to do it is right there in front of you.

It’s cooking, planned and executed like a military campaign, and the moves are eminently transferable to other life-things as well.

A companion YouTube video, also published by Rodale Press, “The Daily Meeze” is a short introduction to the 30-minute daily planning session that Charnas recommends as a way to take mise-en-place out of the kitchen and apply it to regular life.

You may be able to figure out your own way to make your “meeze” your own.  Think about it.

Here’s a poem:


I SHOW UP

I suppose one thing there is

That can be said about me:

I show up.

It isn’t much, that.

Not earth-shaking….

I raise no mountains.

 

It’s not like I’m riding

On the waves at Jaws,

Throwing myself down

The face of some

Massive wall of water,

The epitome of Cool.

 

I show up.

What needs to be done

Gets done because of that.

The gears get oiled,

The wheels keep turning

And nothing comes

To a screeching halt.

 

I show up.

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Dongjiadu Mise-en-place” by Gary Stevens via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.

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30 thoughts on “PUT IN PLACE

  1. What a beautiful poem. This epitomizes a motto that I made up when I’m not excited about my job “one foot after the other”. In other words: just keep going.

    It’s motivation to keep holding it down for the family. It also applies to the dreams and goals you have in life. If you want to make it, you have to keep “showing up”.

    1. Hey Nik:  Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts and your story.  I do appreciate it.  Please do come again.

  2. Hi Netta,
    The word mise-en-place brings back certain memories to me. I can’t say it is good, neither is it bad memories. It is a word I learned more than 20 years ago! And have not used it since I forget when.

    Seeing the word now, it does give me a special feeling.

    I love the way you translate it to the things or tasks we do in our daily life. Not much of a poetic person myself but after reading your poem twice, it showed me the meaning.

    Wishing you all the BEST and keep writing!
    Sharon

    1. Hey Sharon:

      Thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  Please do come again.

  3. Hi Netta,

    I have to admit, before I came across your article, I had never heard of mise-en-place. Now that I do know about it, I think I may need to put it to use!

    In our house, I do most of the cooking. There’s me, my wife, and three sons, aged 15, 6 and 2 respectively. Everyone wants something different, so over the course of one VERY chaotic hour, I end up cooking five different meals!

    1. Hey Al: 

      Welcome back!  Do try the mise-en-place!  It really does work.  Taking a few minutes to get organized is well worth it.  Everything’s within easy reach and you can just go…no running to the fridge for the butter or digging through pantry shelves for that bottle of dillseed you KNOW is there and so on! 

      The best fun is when you’re cooking for a crowd.  Then having all the things chopped, diced and mashed beforehand is a real time-saver.

      The weird thing, though, is that mise-en-place mindset also works for other things besides cooking — like getting through a stack of reports and such.  If you make a system of a regularly scheduled bunch of reports, it’s amazing how much work you can get done in a fairly short time.  It even works when you’re constructing blog posts.

      Please do come again

  4. Loving your “I show up” poem. Its an adaptable and appropriate poem relating to many things and situations in life, Wherever you are and what ever you are doing you can really relate!

    When I am doing something i am not thrilled about I show up and I smile and because of that what I am there to do gets done! I really enjoyed your article here. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the visit and for your comments, Dianne.  I do appreciate them.

      Please do come again….

  5. I am not a chef and also I am not a great fan of cooking (I would rather eat than cook hahaha) . However I liked what I read on your post. The philosophy that they follow is something that’s new, something that never come to my mind. 

    It is not focus on being strict and organized, but more on working clean.

    I will try to apply that kind of system on my life and see if it fits me.

    Thanks for the article.

    PD: your poetry is fascinating

    1. Welcome back, Fredery.  I’m glad the post made you consider another way of doing things.

      Please do come again….

  6. A very simple concept but not used by 85% of the people in daily lives. You have explained the concept of Putting-in-place through the culinary route. And it applies very much to our personal & professional lives.

    If we fail to prepare, we are indeed preparing to fail. Just as we have our ingredients ready before we start cooking, we should have our plan ready for each day, short term and long term. Use the ingredients well and voila, we have a wonderful dish. Using the same analogy, we will have a wonderful day by preparing well and look forward to good things in life.

    The poem too has a very deep meaning. Showing up…. means a lot to family, to friends, to colleagues at work!

    Look forward to reading more of your posts.

  7. Thank you for your visit and for your comments, Rudolph.  I do appreciate them.

    Please do come again….

  8. Thank you very much for this post! And Mise-en-Place is very important to be productive and even to enjoy our time while cooking! It’s not to clean and organize at the end, but to do it all and at the same time keep our kitchen organized! I really like it!

    The check list you include in this post is so useful!

    And it’s not only applicable to when we’re cooking, but also to so many other areas of our life! Order is so important! Thank you very much for this post!

    PD. Enjoyed the poem! 🙂

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Henry.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again….

  9. Henderson says:

    Before reading this article, I didn’t know anything about mis en place. I am very happy that I came across this particular post because it speaks a lot to me about preparedness and scheduling things. 

    I really did enjoy your poem too as it relates to many different situations. Nice one!

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Henderson.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

  10. I don’t have a whole knowledge on your expertise, however not many people probably would, however it’s best to think of things clean and orderly in your life including of course you’re cooking. You brought some very interesting aspects of culinary direction into our lives. Looking forward to more insightful posts like this to help us out with positive advice

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Andrew.  I do appreciate it.

      I’m not sure what you meant about my “expertise.”  I only know about what has worked in my own life and that is what I share with other people.  Hope that helps….

      Please do come again.  

  11. Thank you for teaching me a new word, mise-en-place! I worked in the food industry for many years.   I am surprised that I have never heard of this phrase before! 

    Your poem is spot on as always. 

    The tips that you share are all what I see all my chefs do. They spend about at least an hour in the morning to prep for the day and also at night before we close as well for the next day. 

    I think we all can create our own way to be prepared and ready for anything. Great food for thoughts.

    1. Welcome back, Nuttanee.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad the post was a help to you.

      Please do come again.

  12. A good post on cooking and planning. I must say that this is a very good post. I always enjoy reading what you have to offer and this post on putting things in place and preparedness in general is not an exception. 

    I like how you have spoken here about the cooks and bringing in mise-en-place which I have never heard about before. Nice one I must say. Very good!

    1. Thanks for your visit and your kind words, John.  Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  13. Hi Netta

    This is a sweet poem. I love the flow. This reminds me of a Mis-en-place poem I came across 5 years ago it is still fresh in me. I goes like this “

    I want this

    no can’t you see?

    I need this

    Exhale to me

    Dreams so sweet

    And feel me 

    as i breath it

    …………………..

    This communicated some of my thoughts within the period I read through it. 

    One thing I love about mis-en-place poems is that it positions me to express myself.

    1. Emmanuel, thanks for the visit and for sharing your mise-en-place poem.  Cool!

      Please do come again.

  14. Hello there, thanks for sharing this wonderful post. 

    First, I love the YouTube video to make better understanding of this topic.  I’m not done with all of it though.  I’ll get back to it. 

    So far, I am someone who doesn’t really set out all that is needed when I’m making a meal and, to be frank, it’s not a good idea but I just don’t know how to stop, lol. 

    The idea of setting things in place is really nice and I’ll start doing it from now. 

    Lastly , a really nice poem you have there.

    1. Chloe, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.  

      Here’s a thought for you:  “Good ideas” are only as good as what you do with them.

      Please do come again.  

  15. Seeing this post makes me smile because I have great interest in cooking a lot since my school days and until now I enjoy cooking for my familrat weekends. 

    Thanks for the brief history on the origin of “Mise”, its really nice learning a bit of it. 

    Looking at the message here, I love having my ingredients in place before I start cooking and sometimes a slow song on the background. 

    Thanks for the tips on how to achieve one aim while cooking.  I would need it a lot because I panic sometimes when I’m running out of time. 

    Best regards.

    1. Welcome back, Dane.  I’m glad you found the post useful.  

      May I make a suggestion?  Try expanding the mise idea to more than just cooking.  It really does do wondrous things if you can use the same mindset in your business or your personal life goals as well.

      Please do come again.

  16. Thank you for this very interesting article. The idea of putting all of your supplies in place before starting to cook can be applied to lots of other things in life, too. 

    For example, When I go to make a blog post, I like to have all of my research sorted out and my images ready to go. I like to have all of my supplies for the blog post in reach. 

    Sometimes it turns out there’s something I didn’t plan for, and that’s okay, but it’s a good idea to try to get everything in place first so that when you actually go to cook or write your post or whatever it is, then it’s all there for you and you can just flow. 

    Thank you for explaining it in this article, I never thought of it that way before. Have a good day!

    1. You got it, C!  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  The mise is, indeed, a great strategy for dealing with more than cooking for the multitudes.

      Please do come again….

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