For those not fluent in French, mise en place (pronounced MEEZ-ahn-plaz) roughly translates to "putting in place" or "everything in place." Everyone who has ever gone to culinary school or has worked in a professional kitchen knows this phrase. In its most simplest form, mise en place is a method of organization used to prepare the ingredients they need in order to start cooking. However, any chef will tell you that "mise" isn't just a fancy saying – it's a philosophy and a way of life that transforms the way you think about both cooking and life outside of the kitchen.
Think about the last time you enjoyed a meal at a nice restaurant and think about all the work that went into preparing that meal. Part of a chef's job is to ensure that each dish is made in a timely manner and with ease, despite having to prepare dozens if not a hundred meals every night. This type of efficiency would not be possible without mise en place.
In order for chefs to work at such a high volume, mise en place is essential. It means that their cooking station must not only be fully prepped with all the ingredients needed to make a specific dish, but each ingredient and tool must be meticulously placed so that their every action is made with purpose and they don't have to stop and think about where things are. Chef Dwayne Lupima, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, says "Once [students] set up their station I should be able to blindfold them...and they should know that their tongs are always here, their oil is always right here, their salt and pepper is always right here."
Mise en place is a state of mind. Not only is it knowing exactly where everything is and when you need to use it, but it is also mental state that is 100% necessary for working in the fast-paced culinary world. To be a great chef, your mind must be just as organized as your prep station. It is crucial that you think about not just how you cook the food, but also how you are going to plate it and how others working around you exist in your space. No matter what industry you work in, understanding the big picture of mise en place is a major key to your success.
Let's face it, cooking can be overwhelming, especially for those without professional training. Though your kitchen at home is most likely not as large or well stocked as a professional kitchen, you can still apply mise en place to the way you cook at home. Think of mise en place as the KonMari Method for your kitchen – it's an organizational art form that will give you peace of mind every time you cook a meal. Follow these steps to apply mise en place in your own kitchen and soon you will transform into an at-home master chef.
Before you do anything, you need to thoroughly read through your recipe. There are three types of recipes where a mise en place is essential to the dish's outcome: a fast-paced sauté (like stir fry), most baked goods, and anything else that sounds intimidating to you. It's very important you pay attention to the type of language used in the instructions. If certain steps of you recipe say things must be done "quickly," your mise will need to reflect that.
Once you've gone over everything, do it again. It may sound nit-picky, but a detailed mise en place will keep your head clear and your working space organized and without it, you will feel frantic and overwhelmed.
Once you've read over your recipe, it's time to plan the execution of your recipe. Break down every item on your ingredients and tools list and categorize them based on how and when you need to use each item. Place appropriate items next to each other so you won't have to think twice when it's time to grab them when cooking.
After you have a well thought-out plan of action, you must measure your ingredients. For an efficient mise en place, you must not only have the appropriate measurements of ingredients on hand, but they must also be in an appropriate container. For spices and herbs, use bowls and ramekins. For liquid ingredients, use a plastic container that is easy to aim and pour from. For liquid ingredients that require more precision, use a squeeze bottle.
If mise en place seems like an overly picky ingredient prep method, it's because it's supposed to be. Mise en place is a habit than can be hard to form for those who are not used to precise organization, but trust us, you will be a better cook because of it.