Mise en place is the kitchen theory & practice used by professional chefs and restaurant line cooks to help maintain order and sanity in the kitchen. Loosely translated it means everything in place. The idea is that what can be established ahead of time should be. In the home kitchen, think of mise en place as one of the best ways to manage your cooking time.
“Mise en place is the religion of all good line cooks …” ~Anthony Bourdain
Most home cooks understand the benefits of organizing recipe ingredients and equipment before the first couple of ingredients meet. With just a few recipes under our belts, we quickly realize that the more prepared we are, the better. It’s pretty intuitive. Mange your environment; manage your time; be prepared. It all makes sense, and most home cooks practice some level of culinary preparedness so we’re all good there. This brings to mind an intriguing question, however — Why then is time management one of the main challenges expressed by cooking enthusiasts?
Take a moment and think of your favorite recipe site. I bet the recipes presented there have really detailed prep time information. I bet you’re also offered the opportunity to organize recipes so that they pair well with your cooking style (I hope it does anyway!). Brilliant! Here’s the problem. That prep time; and less so, the cook time; who provided those? A home cook trying the recipe for the first time? Doubtful. And even when the recipe author kindly adjusts the prep time, taking into consideration the novice factor, times remain highly subjective. So what’s the secret? How do great cooks, professional chefs, and supper club hosts do it? It’s not magic. It’s dress rehearsal.
Yep. A little experience goes a long way. Think of it as your own personal culinary bench test, complete with a full-course dry run. If you’re a serious home cook and want to manage your time like a pro, try those recipes a time or two, weeks before your next neighborhood shindig. Do so, and you’ll be rewarded with knowing exactly what to expect when it’s showtime. You certainly want to earn your due stars when you have a home full of guests, excited to unleash their inner food critic on your cuisine du jour.
The dress rehearsal brings with it plenty of other benefits too. During your menu bench test you might find that a dish swap is in order. Uncovering this when you have time to adapt & adjust is a really, really good feeling. Also great is the game day realization that you’ve done this before, so stay calm, take a deep breath, and do what you practiced. And of course there’s the food. Enjoy it!
Here are a few tips to help manage your time in the kitchen:
- Keep a simple time journal of the foods your cook regularly. You’ll find yourself referring to this often as you create menus at home. This is my favorite tip of the bunch. Since most home cooks create menus around familiar recipes, having a personal cook-time journal of those recipes is invaluable. Here’s a great recipe journal.
- Along with #1, also jot down your recipe’s cooking equipment & appliances. This gives you a nice high-level view of how best to coordinate cooking each dish you’re preparing.
- Pad unfamiliar recipe cook times for the unknown. Interruptions of all kinds are bound to happen. Be sure to anticipate this reality and prepare accordingly.
Now go cook something!