I missed the memo on mise en place.
Mise en place sounds fancy, but it’s a simple idea. It’s a French phrase which refers to the practice of reading through a recipe, measuring and prepping ingredients, and ensuring you have the necessary equipment at the ready before you actually begin cooking.
When I was in 6th grade, I had a particularly sadistic teacher who taught us a lesson about reading and following instructions by giving the class a trick test which featured a long list of instructions, the last of which was to just put your name on the paper and ignore rest of the test items. For me, cooking was sometimes like taking one of those trick tests; I’d get to the end of recipe and realize that I was missing an ingredient, or that I hadn’t timed things properly. Cooking FAIL.
I have been cooking since I was about 10 years old and I think I first stumbled across the idea of mise en place while watching a Food Network show some 20+ years later. So that’s a couple decades worth of culinary chaos. When I finally clued in about the practice of mise en place, it was a revelation. I can’t say that I employ the practice every time I cook, but when I make effort, the effort is richly rewarded.
As I’ve mulled over the impact of mise en place on my cooking, it’s occurred to me how universal a principle it is. Almost every complicated task is made easier if I take a second at the outset to understand the steps I’ll need to take to get from the starting point to the ending point. This feels like such a big “duh” kind of thing, but I often find myself fighting the urge to dive into new projects without really thinking them through.
I’m not what Steven Covey would call “a highly effective person,” but it sometimes makes sense to “begin with the end in mind.” A little bit of planning goes a long way in most aspects of life. Sometimes magic happens when you just start throwing stuff in a pot, no recipe, no rules. But sometimes, it helps to have a plan. Memo received.
© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball