by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Carol normally loves when I cook, though her major criticism is that I use every pot and pan that we have. Contrary to what many think, I am not a trained chef even though I directed the culinary programs at Lincoln Land Community College. However, one of the most important skill sets I learned from observing classes taught by our professional chefs was the concept of mise en place. The official definition from the “New Professional Chef” is:
“Mise en place pronounced (MEEZ ahn plahs) or (mi zap las) is more than simply assembling all the ingredients, pots and pans, plates and serving pieces needed for a particular service period. Mise en place is also a state of mind. Someone who has truly grasped this concept is able to keep many tasks in mind simultaneously. This assures that the chef has anticipated and prepared for every situation that could possibly occur during a service period.”
In everyday terms, mise en place is having all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start cooking. The translation is “to put in place.” It was August Escoffier, the grandfather of classic cuisine, who implemented the concept in his kitchen. There will be more about him and his influence in the kitchen in a future article.
Before knowing the importance of mise en place, l would jump into the recipe, not having all my ingredients ready. Mise en place teaches us to have all our ingredients chopped, minced, peeled or grated before cooking is started. In large restaurants, it is the role of the sous chef (another French term for the second in command to the executive chef) to prepare ingredients for the executive chef to cook with.
At home, start by reading through the recipe a couple of times and gather all the ingredients. If you want to make substitutions or use equivalents for some of the foods in the recipe, make sure that you have the correct amounts.
In my former life, I managed hotels and restaurants and it was necessary to observe all the activity. When we dine out, Carol tries to have me sit facing the wall in a restaurant so I can pay attention to her and not all that is going on around us. “Jay, you do not work here,” is what she reminds me.
Dining in an open kitchen is my nirvana – being able to sit and watch the chefs do their work. It is truly great entertainment. A kitchen during a busy time period has more action going on than a roller derby. What always amazes me is how they can get out that many appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts with relative ease. Think about how much work has gone into cooking a gourmet dinner at home for six. The chefs in the restaurant are turning out 100 dinners or more each night.
Watch closely and you will see mise en place in action. Each station is fully prepared with all the ingredients necessary to make a particular dish. All the meats, chicken and fish are cut and deboned; the fresh herbs for seasoning sauces are washed, cut and separated into small bowls; the vegetables are sliced, diced or julienned into the correct size. Everything is ready to go because when the show gets going, there is no time go back and dice up some carrots. The show must go on!
What you did not see were the hours spent during the day when the chefs were working hard to get everything ready for the evening service.
I have found implanting mise en place makes cooking just more pleasant; everything is in place. You can enjoy the rhythm of cooking and baking. There is much less stress, and you are able to listen to how the food sounds as it is being prepared. I suggest you develop your own mise en place. You will not need to have everything prepared to the last bit of grated cheese before you start cooking, but do try and find your own rhythm in the kitchen. You will find it is to easier to cook. You will be more efficient and you will enjoy the whole process, plus be able to enjoy that necessary glass of wine while cooking.
Some simple steps:
1. Read the recipe. Read it again.
2. Evaluate the recipe. What do you have in stock, and what will you need from the store? Make any adjustments/substitutions.
3. Have some cleaning items to help maintain a clean work environment. Remove any items not necessary for recipe construction
4. Gather all your tools: cutting boards, measuring spoons, prep bowls, cups and pans and set up your work station.
5. Gather ingredients.
6. Line up ingredients according to the recipe. Cut up vegetables before the protein to help prevent cross contamination.
7. Use small garbage bowls for food waste to prevent unnecessary trips to the trash can.
8. Sip some wine.
9. Use a timeline. It will help ensure that items get done in the right order.
I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.
W. C. Fields
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.