“Mise en place forces cooks to account for every minute of their time and every moment,” as chef Dwayne Lipuma is quoted in a recent NPR article.
First, what the enfer is mise en place? It’s french for “put in place”, and it’s a term used in cooking for the setup of ingredients and tools gathered and arranged at one’s station, often meticulously or even obsessively, and before the actual “cooking” begins. Everything one will need to the day/shift is considered and laid out just so. (n.b.: I’m not a chef! If you are a chef and you have a more accurate explanation, please do tell!).
Second, why do I care, since, as I just explained, I am not a chef? Well, the idea of mise en place— that you set up everything you need just so, and it’s right there when you need it— is freeing. It makes a routine, or a habit, out of the process of being prepared. And that, IMHO, is enormously freeing.
We all have routines. Things that we do without thinking about it, without needing to make a decision each time, without drama. They’re automatic. Some of them help us, some don’t, and some probably hold us back. And we hardly ever give them any thought. We just do them. Because they’re automatic, we tend to take them for granted, and assume that’s how it must be. Such as: “I don’t have time to run before work, because I get up at 6:30, and it’s too late, and I don’t have clean socks, and blah blah blah. Then I feel guilty because I should run, but I don’t.” Well, guess what? You can mise en place this problem! You get up at 5:55 now, and when you get up, your shorts and sneakers are laid out just so on your dresser, your ipod is loaded and ready to go, and you are out the door before you had time to think about it— and you run, and your head is clear, and you feel great. It’s a small example, but it makes the point: if you take care of the nagging details as part of a routine, you can be freed and focused to do the enjoyable and creative parts of your life.
So when the thoughts creep in that say “I don’t have time to cook, “ “I can’t make healthy food because it takes too long”, or “I don’t have time to exercise,” think about your routines. Think about what you need to make those things happen, and make THAT your routine.
Here are some ways that I practice the spirit of mise en place:
– Max and I usually shop on Sundays. We wash the farmers’ market veggies. We chop. We cook beans. We roast. It’s a kitchen bonanza— a little time now, everything in place for later.
-When I cook Sunday Dinner, I cook this way! I cook for 10-12 folks, and I set up, prep, and work clean. I listen to music or podcasts while I do the prep, and then the cooking is fun!
-I keep lists, and I think ahead. I know what needs to get done before a day or event or project, and I go over and over it. Then I do it. Then I check it. It’s ready.
-I pack my gym bag and stick it in my car if I think there’s a chance I’ll e able to go. I don’t have to worry if I have a sports bra, or a hair tie. It’s there, it’s ready. I’m not thinking about it.
-You should SEE what’s in my pockets at work. Before the first patient walks in the door, I have three pens, a flashlight, a ruler, a reflex hammer, and my ipad mini in there. I have enough things to worry about— where my gear is isn’t one of them.
-I don’t always do this, but I love it when I do: I sometimes lay out my outfit the night before, like a kindergardener. I have the right shoes. I have the right underwear. It’s ready, and my morning is on track, and I look sharp, and I’m not late. I once helped the sis, when she was a brand new baby lawyer, plan every outfit she could make from her wardrobe—down to what scarf or earings would work— and we took pictures. That’s advanced!
-I have little zip pouches that I use to organize my every-day purse-type stuff— they go from my purse to my gym bag to my work bag as needed. One has chapstick, lipstick, mints, floss, and ibuprofen. One has pens, a tiny notebook, and business cards. They’re loaded and ready to go. I’m not worried about it. I have what I need.
This might sound a little obessive, but I don’t see it that way. For me, it’s freeing! I have routines that support my everyday life and work— freeing up my thoughts and energy to “let the magic happen!”
Have you tried something like this?