If I could give just one piece of advice to a beginning cook or any one who wants to improve their performance in the kitchen, I would do so with three words: mise en place. (meez ahn plahs) It is French for “setting in place.” My fellow newbies at the New York Restaurant School many years ago would jokingly pronounce it in a French accent as “No messy place!”
Think of it as releasing your “inner Felix,” even if you normally fit the Oscar profile. Can’t you just hear Felix saying “Oscar! There’s a place for everything – and everything in its place.”
Mise en place is taught in professional culinary schools like the CIA. Chef Linda Martin teaches it in Sweet Basil’s 12-week Essence of Cooking course for home cooks. Mise en place is credited to Georges Auguste Escoffier, a young chef who learned the value of military precision and preparedness in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. He went on to implement what he’d learned in the great hotel kitchens of Paris and London.
The concept is simple. Set everything – food and equipment – you will need for the dish in place before you begin preparing it. Put all measured ingredients such as spices and liquids in measuring cups, small dishes or containers. (Collect such things as used spice jars, small honey jars, etc. Sweet Basil has 1.75 oz Silicone Pinch Bowls and Kavalierglass Simax bowls in different sizes – see photo of mise en place set-up – that are perfect.) Then prepare, measure and reserve all remaining ingredients.
If you implement mise en place in your cooking life you’ll also add another critical habit to your repertoire: you will have read the recipe from start to finish! Amazed? Yes – many of us don’t read the recipe all the way through when we are learning to cook. That’s when most mistakes are made.
Another habit associated with mise en place will reward your efforts: Begin clean, work clean and end clean. Begin with a clean work area and clean hands; keep a damp wipe-cloth handy and clean up as you work and have a container for scraps and garbage nearby.
1. Mix the chicken, celery, onion, mayonnaise, salt and pepper in a medium mixing bowl
A complete mise en place would include measuring cups/spoons, a medium mixing bowl and a spatula for mixing the salad ingredients. In the photo of a mise en place set up above see: 1) Kavalierglass Bowls. We carry them in various sizes. 2) The multi-colored bowls are 1.75 oz. Silicone Pinch Bowls. (Called “Pinch Bowls” because you can pinch them and pour out the contents.)
If you are thinking “wouldn’t the “cooked chicken” need its own mise en place? That’s correct if you were preparing the chicken from the grocer’s meat case. But in this example we bought a roasted chicken. But good thinking. Oscar wouldn’t have thought of that. In fact keep Oscar out of the kitchen when you are cooking.
Chef Keith Schroeder, a Cooking Light Columnist and author of Mad Delicious: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing! has a wonderful mise en place video.
Mise en place has gone from the kitchen to the world of self-improvement! Or as Chef Escoffier might have said, “l’amélioration de soi.”