When I published Elements of Cooking last fall, I also began a blog to address, well, elements of cooking— aromats and water, pâte a choux and ganache—basic stuff, because great cooking, whether it’s in your own kitchen or in the four-star restaurant, is completely reliant on performing the basics well.  I was able to talk about the basics I cared about most, learn from others who commented, chefs and home cooks alike, and coerce my amazing wife into giving me an image for the post.  And I intend to continue it—but not on a separate blog.  Two blogs, too much.  I guess I was trying to keep the cooking separate from the opinion, food politics and food rants.  But attending to one made me feel I was neglecting the other.  And besides, it’s all one thing in the end.  So herewith Monday’s element, perhaps the most important single idea in cooking.

Mise en Place

Mise_en_place
                                                                                                   photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman
Mise en place:  Literally “put in place,” mise en place is the kitchen term for your set up, the gathering and preparation of all the tools and food you need to complete the task at hand; mise en place can refer to a cook’s organization on the line before the evening’s service (line cooks often refer to it simply as “meez” and can be extremely territorial about their own); mise en place can refer to the wooden spoon, wine, stock, rice, and salt you gather before starting a risotto.  Because it’s such an important part of the chef’s life, so critical to efficiency of action and the use of time, the term often carries broader connotations of being ready.  Excellent mise represents the ultimate state of preparedness, whether the physical mise en place of food and tools or the mental mise en place of having thought a task through to the end and being ready for each step of it.

One of the reasons I love the world of the kitchen is because so much of the work of cooking has a metaphorical component.  I believe that cooking well, or striving to, is a metaphor for living well.  Having good mise en place is a metaphor for being organized in your life and in your mind.  Its goals are to ensure preparedness and efficiency of action.

The above mise was for a pasta dish I made to bring to my father’s yesterday, a main course to go with Superbowl food he’d be preparing.  I needed something that could be largely prepared in advance and was portable.  My dad loves a creamy pasta with sausage, and I’d so utterly failed him with the one I made two weeks ago (not enough fat!) that I vowed to do better—roasted vegetables, some of Brian’s Keilbasa (from Charcuterie, lots of fat!), all combined with a shalloty béchamel (an underappreciated mother sauce).  Have your mise en place together—whether its a pasta course, a business  presentation, heart operation, or putting a tile backsplash in your kitchen—and it all comes together in a snap, but more important, you’ll be more likely to surmount the unexpected obstacles that fall in your way. Yea, verily.

Share

70 Wonderful responses to “One Life, One Blog”

  • Brian

    Honestly, for me Mise en Place means less stress.
    I have had some of my friends and relatives chuckle a bit when they see all my mise en place in little containers ready to go, but it truly does make all the difference in preparing any dish.
    Lover your blogs Michael. I’m making my way through your CIA book at the moment and it’s awesome!

  • bad home cook

    It’s slowly dawned on me that this mis en place thing is useful going forward. As for your elements of style posts…I sit slavishly at your knee, ready to learn from the master. Maybe I’ll even pick up something…

  • Maura

    S. Woody said: “Why would anyone go to a market where they only sell bell peppers in shrink-wrapped packs of six?”

    It could be the only market they can get to, for a variety of reasons. But, unlike your question, that really is an entirely different topic.

    I see selecting the right ingredients as part of MEP. You can prep an array of items and put them in cute little dishes, but what’s the point if you don’t have what you need?

    Luis said: “Maura, okay I think I have thought this one out half way. You are right, home cooking is a lot like that. How about this, I will execute one or two recipe driven dishes a week and the rest of the time I will excute as close to a recipe as I can with the ingredients on hand?. I will store what can be stored and cook whatever will perish and go to waste even though I may be writing my own recipes as I go. The upside here is I have FREEDOM to cook anything as long as it comes together and I use MEP(mise en place) techniques. What else is someone with very limited time to do?”

    I think that makes sense. I mean,you certainly draw the line at some point with improvising, the aforementioned Alfredo sauce being a perfect example. If I decide I want pasta e fagioli, I’ll make it if I have at least two of the following three ingredients: celery, beer and stock of some kind. (I always have the other ingredients on hand.) If I only have one, or worse, none of them, then I have to make something else.

    I really like the idea of making something out of just what you have on hand. Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t. Like right this moment, I trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I’m at a loss. But chances are, I’ll come up with something. (Pancakes are sounding really good right now.)

    I think it’s really essential to take this approach if you don’t have a lot of time. Unless you find going to the grocery store fun. Which I totally get.

  • luis

    Maura, okay I think I have thought this one out half way. You are right, home cooking is a lot like that. How about this, I will execute one or two recipe driven dishes a week and the rest of the time I will excute as close to a recipe as I can with the ingredients on hand?. I will store what can be stored and cook whatever will perish and go to waste even though I may be writing my own recipes as I go. The upside here is I have FREEDOM to cook anything as long as it comes together and I use MEP(mise en place) techniques. What else is someone with very limited time to do?

  • S. Woody

    Why would anyone go to a market where they only sell bell peppers in shrink-wrapped packs of six?

    Where I work, we’ve got the bell peppers out where the customers can select exactly which ones they want, in the quantity they want.

    Sure, you can buy bags of yellow onions. But you can also buy them loose.

    I thought selecting the right ingredients was part of good eating, the first step in getting the mise together.

    So why shop where you’re going to be stuck with second-rate ingredients slathered in shrink-wrap?

    (Or, is this another topic entirely?)

  • Maura

    “What I see is that my home kitchen is disfunctional with tons of ingredients that are cuisine specific and don’t follow a proper flow of recipes. It’s leftover/on hand driven cooking. Bad planning if you will.”
    Yes, that makes perfect sense. And I see now how you’re tying that to MEP. (I told you my synapses were firing properly. :) )

    I don’t know anyone whose kitchen isn’t at least a little like that. It’s particularly difficult if, like me, you’re not a linear thinking person. So it’s about finding the tools to help you with that. That’s why I think MEP is so valuable. It keeps me organized and focused, which is no small feat.

  • luis

    Maura, sorry about that. understand I have no fixed position in this issue. Mise en Place is taking me places beyond where Rhulman really intended this topic to go.
    What I see is that my home kitchen is disfunctional with tons of ingredients that are cuisine specific and don’t follow a proper flow of recipes. It’s leftover/on hand driven cooking. Bad planning if you will.
    too many spices too many herbs too many different things spoiling around. It’s homecooking. My brother is an excellent chef and at home I see him improvising all the time. Each recipe book has a 100+ recipes. I have dozens of books and a database of several hundred recipes. There are five or six cooking days in the week… half of that if you consume the left overs. See my point?
    I should run my kitchen like a restaurant. Decide on a menu and plan it and execute as such. Say 2008 I will open a chinese stir fry restaurant. That’s it. Nothing that clashes with stir fry. Or perhaps this could be a month to month… American Jan, Italian Feb… like that. My point is I want the recipe to drive the dish not what’s spoiling or laying around the pantry.
    Two ways to go. Shop for the daily recipe or stick to a particular cuisine so you get that flow going. In fact you don’t see Rosie cooking anything other than spanish or Esposito cooking anything other than Italian..Or Bayless doing other than Mexican.
    This is how these chefs come to grips with their mise en place without going crazy.

  • luis

    Maura, relax a bit… a bell pepper is a bell pepper. My issue is when you need one and someone wants to sell you a pack of six wrapped in plastic. Mise en Place I think is about getting organized and taking control of the recipes. If I substitute that Mozarella I always have tons of laying around for the Parmesan in the alfredo sauce… did I make Alfredo sauce? or did I sabotage that recipe?. Now if I have random leftovers laying around chopped up in little dishes all over the place what else will I sabotage? what else? substitute that white chardonay for the called for Merlot? Pleeeeeeeease…. Home cooking is not home cooking… It’s leftover cooking. This is why restaurants are in business and will always be. Does BK run out of whoppers and sub in fish or some other protein???? and if they did how would you take it? Would you get it then?

  • Java Jones

    Les explications de presque un moitier des chose a la cuisine ne serait point necessaire si les Americains parleront quelque chose en plus seulment d’anglais.

    “mis en place” — Ca veux dire ce qu’il dire!

  • Maura

    Luis, I didn’t mean to come off as strident. I was just asking some questions because I wasn’t clear on your point.

    “My issue is when you need one and someone wants to sell you a pack of six wrapped in plastic.”

    Well sure. I don’t buy more than I need. If I think I can go through six peppers in a week (and I can), I might buy them that way. Or I’ll pick out six individual peppers, even if they cost a little more.

    “Mise en Place I think is about getting organized and taking control of the recipes. If I substitute that Mozarella I always have tons of laying around for the Parmesan in the alfredo sauce… did I make Alfredo sauce? or did I sabotage that recipe?.”

    I think this is where we part, but I get your point now. What I’m saying is that it’s not a bad thing to prepare a meal based on what you already have. I’m not saying it’s the only way to cook,just that it’s an option. And I certainly not saying it’s OK to make Alfredo sauce with mozzarella cheese because you have some left over. I’m saying either go buy some parmesan or make something else with the mozzarella.

    “This is why restaurants are in business and will always be. Does BK run out of whoppers and sub in fish or some other protein???? and if they did how would you take it? Would you get it then?”

    Well, first I’d have to figure out how I ended up at BK, but no, of course I wouldn’t take it.

    Seriously Luis, I wasn’t challenging you. I just wanted to be clear on what you were saying.

  • t-scape

    I can honestly say that the more I have learned about cooking (and I am a total newbie, so I’m not implying I know a ton), and the more involved I have become with it, the more I see correlations to my everyday life while in the kitchen. Especially now that I have started to learn how to make bread — the idea of staying a step ahead of things, to know what steps are going to be coming down the line and being prepared for them, hasn’t been lost on me.

  • t-scape

    I can honestly say that the more I have learned about cooking (and I am a total newbie, so I’m not implying I know a ton), and the more involved I have become with it, the more I see correlations to my everyday life while in the kitchen. Especially now that I have started to learn how to make bread — the idea of staying a step ahead of things, to know what steps are going to be coming down the line and being prepared for them, hasn’t been lost on me.

  • Maura

    Luis said: “In my opinion left over things laying around undermine the “mise en place” concept. If your leftovers are driving your cooking at home, then you are not really executing recipes as they were intended to be experienced.”

    Luis, can you expound on this a little. I’m not getting it.

    Suppose you need a bell pepper, but you can only find peppers that are twice the size of what you need. Do you not buy it because there will be some left over? For me, that’s just about stretching food, which is vital for many people. If I can find a large bell pepper for .99, why would I buy a smaller one, when I know I can use the larger one within a week?

    It’s entirely possible that my synapses aren’t firing properly this morning, so help me out.

  • luis

    Maura, I use costco for wines and proteins that I can buy cheaply and store or freeze till I need them.
    Back from Norman brothers with a New York sandwich for taking to work, rye bread and San Genaro’s polenta. My guess is Norman’s rye bread will not last the week on the shelf. This Rye bread loaf will drive some of my meals for the next few days. Use it or lose it. You are right about leftovers. (Sunday is my Pizza Palooza day).
    In my opinion left over things laying around undermine the “mise en place” concept. If your leftovers are driving your cooking at home, then you are not really executing recipes as they were intended to be experienced. Any way this is what I have been experiencing far too much of lately. Hence my thoughts this morning.

  • Mike D

    I forwarded my dear sister a link to this post under the heading “Your brother, Vindicated”, as she is always complaining about the incredible number of additional bowls, creme brulee cups, small saucers, large saucers, spoons, and other vessels that are generated during the preparation of one of my meals and which she invariably is delegated to wash.

    I thought I would share her response:

    “How do we extend the metaphor to account for the huge mess your meez leaves behind for others?

    Hmmm how could that possibly translate to a metaphor for real life?”

    Can’t win with sisters.

  • Frances Davey

    Mise en place is just common sense to me. I remember years ago, when I heard Julia talk about baking, and having everything out – and putting it back as you use it. I thought, “Hey! I do that.” And I was very pleased with myself. Why did I already do that? Because pumpkin pie just isn’t quite right without sugar.

  • Maura

    Luis said: “The tough thing in the “mise en place” concept to control is the perishables. Too often I find I need one of this and one of that and Publix shrink wraps half a dozen or more. These perishables then lay around and drive the ingredient selections of the dishes for rest of the week.”

    I don’t see that as a bad thing though. Much of our food is based on just that – using what’s left over for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. If people hadn’t done that, we might not have pizza!

    That said, I’ve also started buying just what I need. (Most of time. The lure of Costco is sometimes irresistible.) I’m lucky enough to have a neighborhood, locally owned grocery store where I can pick up what I need for the next few days. They even sell local produce. And it’s within walking distance. Can’t beat it.

    proeats said: “Maura – Please show your husband your first comment. It’s good information presented in an honest way.”

    Thank you. And we’ve had the conversation. I even did a full blog post on it. The poor guy is so overburdened with working, taking care of me and taking care of the house, I can’t give him too hard a time. Until I can’t find my microplane, that is.

    I’ve been teaching him how to cook. He already understands mise en place. I think he’s a natural.

  • T.W. Barritt

    This is so true. One of the key things I learned in culinary classes is how so many of the techniques are applicable to the rest of life. I often wish that business people would take a series of culinary classes. It would teach them to plan, focus, use their senses and work as a team.

  • luis

    The tough thing in the “mise en place” concept to control is the perishables. Too often I find I need one of this and one of that and Publix shrink wraps half a dozen or more. These perishables then lay around and drive the ingredient selections of the dishes for rest of the week.
    And if I over chop veggies then now I have little bowls with chopped up veggies spoiling all over the fridge.
    I am trending towards shopping daily for what I will use today.
    This means I can shop upscale markets such as “whole foods” and “gardners” as well as farmer markets and cheaper ethnic markets which offer the highest quality and sell you the right amount of perishables.
    The higher upfront cost may be offset by the lack of waste and the freshnest of the ingredients?.
    I can hit the ingredient list on the head and produce higher quality dishes if I shop daily.
    Store no perishables is what I am pondering this morning… as I am getting ready to clean the fridge.
    Just a thought going through my mind today. If you think about it, the discipline of shopping the ingredients daily forces you to do “mise en place” very rigorously.
    This is a concept that is bigger than meets the eye. Factories and Industrial processes which make a science of purchasing lower cost goods and staging them for production do it on this very principle. It’s called “Just in time”. Buy what you need when you need it and have it delivered to you just in time to process it. No inventories. Businesses like car makers and computer manufacturers etc strive for the no inventory principle. We know they live and die on the quaity of what they produce.

  • Doodad

    Had a great example of mise last night and it was both physical and mental. And as JOhn pointed out, it is more than weights and measures it is also sequence AND mental floss (or mise).

    Wifey came home sick, daughter busy with job and homework. Mardi Gras so there is no way I am not making jambalaya.

    So, all by myself in the most efficient manner I could conceive. First, music. Then pot with sauce; start cooking down. Now skillet and fry sausage that was sliced. While browning, prep vege. Sausage into sauce pot, now vege into skillet. Wash cutting board and knife, put away both. Vege done, deglaze and all into the sauce pot. Season and cook down while washing skillet. Add rice. Shell shrimp and clean kitchen. Add shrimp, finish cooking over high heat. Cover and let sit while gettting dishware. Serve sick wife. All in less than two hours and no mess other than dishes to clean.

    Shelley, that is GEEZ en place.

  • White On Rice Couple

    Mis en place is crucial for us when we are both in our small kitchen, cooking for a party of 50 friends. If our we didn’t have our meeze together , I really don’t think we would have lasted together this long in a relationship. Meeze keeps us patient and civil towards one another in the kitchen and that’s especially important when there’s only room for ONE stockpot on the burner!

  • Maryann

    Bob, I think “mental mise en place” makes perfect sense. As in any art form, first you learn the literal, tedious tasks. Then after years, you are set free from them all, to become and create. Instinct takes over.
    I see “mise en place” in this light.I’m guessing that this way of doing things is needed for those who are learning how to cook professionally, but I was “grandma trained” and not easily distracted by children in the kitchen or spice bottle tops that may come loose. I’ve seen top chefs in awe at what moms and grandmas can produce from their kitchens. And they don’t use this technique. Just my .02 worth :)
    No disrespect to Michael intended :)

  • Shelley

    So… Rachael Ray plopping armloads of ingredients between her cutting board and her garbage bowl… that’s mise en place, right?

    Don’t shoot me, people, I’m JUST KIDDING. ;]

  • soupnancy

    Glad to see it all in one spot; like you say, one life, one blog. Plus less moving around for us readers. When it comes to the elements of cooking, I can’t think of anything more important than MEP, so I’m happy to see you spell it out. As a chef, I always find it amazing when guests see all the little pots of stuff and are surprised. I’m thinking, ‘how else did you think we do things, magically pull it all out of a drawer?, don’t you do that at home?’, and they’re thinking, ‘look at that, wow what a great idea, maybe I should try that at home.’ Duh, MEP is everything.

  • lux

    Mental “meeze” makes perfect sense to me. It’s the same thing that you do before performing, too. Block out everything that is not essential to the task at hand, focus your energies, know what you have to do, and go all-out.

  • Pookha

    “But I felt kind of sad when I hit ‘delete’ on the Elements bookmark.”

    Me, too.

    Mise is one of my rants, too. Husband rarely cooks, for good reason: he MOVES ALL MY STUFF. And doesn’t clean up.

    I’m threatening to make a flow chart for him so he knows how to put dishes in the sink properly. ;)

    Another great post, Mr. Ruhlman.

  • JOhn

    See, to me, mise doesn’t neccesarily mean “everything chopped, ready to be added in the exact proportion and sequence” unless I’m on the line, when it means exactly that.
    But when I’m cooking at home (which I find HARDER than cooking on the line, just not as exhausting), I work more on the mental mise idea: knowing what’s going to happen and in what order, so I know what I have to do first (chop onions and get them sweating) prep the meat and get it back into the fridge ’cause I want it to be seasoned for 45 minutes before I start it), then chop garlic, start pasta water, whatever, while the onions are cooking. If you read Ruhlman’s books, you’ll see that for each of the practical tests, that’s exactly what he does (what, did you think I came up with the idea by myself??).
    I find that the preview time is the most essential; then I can pay attention to both the food and the family.

  • Christine in the 'Nati

    Once upon a time, I used to be a cook. At the tender age of 15, I was formally introduced to “meez,” and life has never been the same. I’m no longer a cook, but the concept of mise en place is still strong my home cooking, and various other aspects of my life. It’s not a stretch to say that working in a professional kitchen for 7 years has left me better prepared for any occupational role I take, and I feel like I have “meez” to thank for it!

  • proeats

    Maura – Please show your husband your first comment. It’s good information presented in an honest way.
    Mr. Ruhlman – One blog – quality of life – good mise.

  • Big Red

    Mise was created by someone who had OCD. I can relate. You enter a Zen like “zone” if you will if you are a serious cook and each thing must be in a certain place, in a certain order for things to turn out the way they are supposed to. Very basic, very instinctual. Home chefs should utilize this method if they are cooking for a crowd, it moves stuff along. My kids are not “eaters” as they say yet, so Mac N Cheese from a box is it here, but when my husband is home on the weekend I like to put the ol’ mise to work and create something for him and I to experience together. As long as he doesn’t touch anything when I am cooking or he will have to be killed. Good topic Ruhlman. As always you know how to bring it back home to the basics.

  • Maura

    bob mcgee said:
    “Now that I’m back in a kitchen, it just seems so basic, that I don’t know what I’d do if someone moved my fish spatula 1 inch to the right. So who ever keeps moving my fish spat…stop!”

    It was probably my husband. :)
    I do a modified mise an place. I do all chopping ahead of time,and all my ingredients and tools are out. But, if I’m baking, I measure as I go. It works for me, and yes, part of that is because I don’t want to use 75 bowls/plates.

  • Kian

    Michael, You are so right about the importance of mise en place. In Chinese cooking, especially in Chinese cooking, it is extremely important. Just as Doodad pointed out when the oil is smoking you really better have all your ingredients ready. I am a big believer in advance preparation and good organization in the kitchen.

    In Chinese cooking it is in fact the mantra. Chop and be ready, then just cook (stir-fry) at the last minute!

  • Shannon

    I’m going to love Mondays.

    I didn’t know about the other blog. I’m glad you’re combining them now.

    I know about the principal of mise en place, but do I ever use it? No. And what happens? I wind up kicking myself for forgetting an ingredient after it’s too late….and it changes the entire success of the recipe so that it’s not so successful.

    Must. practice. mise en place!!!!!!!!

  • S. Woody

    OK, regarding my earlier post about putting everything in my mise that goes into what I’m preparing at the same time in the same waiting bowl…

    Are there good reasons why I should NOT do this? I mean, I can understand not putting dry ingredients in with wet before putting them in the pot (flour doesn’t sprinkle evenly when it is damp), but other than that, are there reasons to avoid mixing ingredients prior to actual use?

    I woke up early today to ask this question.

  • Bob delGrosso

    S. Woody
    You separate ingredients according to how long each takes to cook and (in a pro kitchen) how many menu items they appear in combination.

    If you need garlic and onions for a dish and you have to saute them first. You might not want to combine them because garlic cooks a lot faster than onions.

    If you are making mise en place for a station in a restaurant, you rarely combine anything unless you are planning to season/finish everything the same way. I, for example, almost never prepped a dish of salt and pepper, because while almost all savory dishes got salt, some did not get pepper.

    Does that make any sense?

  • kevin

    Michael,
    Mise is one of my favorite rants. I talk about it at every class I teach and often bring it up when consultig with home cooks — in fact it’s particularly important with home cooks for three reasons:

    1) It’s a way of discovering in advance if they’re missing an ingredient rather than halfway through the dish.

    2) It prevents over seasoning by, say, accidentally loosing the lid on the cayenne pepper.

    3) In the event of distractions (kids, telephone, UPS) you don’t have to remember if you added the salt or not. If the pich bowl is empty you added it, if not you didn’t.

  • The Yummy Mummy

    …As long as you keep posting, it’s all good. I’m a better cook because of your books and blog. (Okay, that sounded a bit boot-licking, but true nonetheless.)

    And wow! Donna’s photos are fantastic – I especially love her work with kids. She really knows how to capture the spirit of a child. Just gorgeous. Thanks for sharing them.

    Kim

  • Lisse

    I just wanted to say that I really appreciated the “Elements” blog, but just as happy that you combined them. I always feel that you are letting us in on the secrets. Thank you.

  • luis

    Yes, prep work is key to a good execution. specially when you strive for consistency and repeatability of the dish.
    “Shalloty Bechamel”?… shallots tend to grow on folks. Have to admit that. After the sweet basil/Romano/shallots/Pesto last week…I am considering growing more sweet basil. I love bowtie pasta. Its not as heavy as a rottini and seems ligther with better consistency.
    As far as cooking for family and friends vs cooking with more flavor and less fat, I think there is a book in there somewhere. I experience the exact same issues. This is the politics of meeting people’s taste expectations in your cooking. This is very evident in cooking contest type shows. There are definite taste expectations in ethnic cuisines. There are RULES that can not be mentioned in the kitchen. RULES we must never talk about!.

  • S. Woody

    Oh, Maryann, you and I have something of the same problem! My partner does the dishes, since I do the cooking, and he grumbles about every single extra dish that he has to wash.

    I compromise/cheat by putting everything that goes into the pot at the same time and in the same way in a single bowl. My partner still grumbles, of course, but rarely grumbles about the end results.

  • Barbara B

    I’m in the “Kept forgetting to check the other blog” camp. Thank you for combining them. It makes it easier on me as a reader.

  • jeff meeker

    Is it possible to over do it with the mise en place?

    Sometimes, I think it is. I am a big proponent of getting my meeze all setup. But I find that there are many times when I am just standing there at the stove, with something cooking, and I’m doing notthing but starring at the pot or pan.

    Maybe the onions are sauteeing. It may take several minutes Why don’t I use that idle time to mince the garlic that will go in later for a short period of time. Or why not measure out some spices that will go in after the onion and garlic have been cooked. Same goes when I am cooking meat. It may take several minutes. Yet I may have already have the shallots chopped and the stock in an easy to pour from container at the ready and the parsley minced to make the pan sauce.

    Seems like I have a lot of idle time in the kitchen once the cooking starts. What to do with it?

  • Maryann

    I’m assuming that the cook using this organized method does not have to do the dishes. haha Pretty, but not practical, unless you have a dishwasher. Mothers know better ;)

  • Judy

    A wonderful metaphor indeed – and as one who suffers from a lack of organization on a grand scale – the image of each element laid out brings a sense of peace and possibility.

    I enjoy your writing – thank you.

  • Danny

    awesome, i like that you are combining the two blogs. i always forgot to read the other one.

  • bob mcgee

    I worked for many years, for a heart surgeon from New Orleans. He new that I had a history in cooking before I became a surgeons assistant. Before the cases, while scrubbing, he would shoulder the door open and holler “How’s your mise en place, chef?”
    It was the idea that I needed to be able to grab every tool, catheter, and canula, behind me, while retracting the heart, as he sewed microvascular anastomoses….in other words, you truly had to have all your ducks in a row.
    Now that I’m back in a kitchen, it just seems so basic, that I don’t know what I’d do if someone moved my fish spatula 1 inch to the right. So who ever keeps moving my fish spat…stop!

  • lectric lady

    It is nice to have it all on one blog.

    But I felt kind of sad when I hit ‘delete’ on the Elements bookmark.

  • Snoozer

    Metro DC area, Roberto Donna used to have a small pizza-and-pasta chain called Il Radicchio. Now I think there’s only one left, in Arlington VA, and I’m not sure it’s his anymore. Anyway, he had a sausage-cream-leek pasta sauce that was decadent. Cardiologists for miles shuddered, but damn it was good. He had an interesting approach — bottomless bowl of pasta for a flat price, fairly low, but modest portions of sauces for moderate prices — you could buy one or two, or more if you wanted to splurge, but by then it was getting pricey for a pizza/pasta joint. I miss the one that used to be nearby.

    Kielbasa? I love good kielbasa (damn hard to find) but I can’t get my head around putting it on pasta. On L.I. where I grew up great Kielbasa was easy to find. That was not enough to tempt me to stay there.

  • Heidi

    I’m happy that you’ve reformatted to a single blog. Everything is available, tidy, at the ready. Mise en place, indeed.

  • Adele

    Michael,

    I’m so glad you’ve decided to go to one blog; I’d periodically forget to check the Elements blog, and then feel guilty (yeah, I’m overly susceptible to guilt; that’s probably why I’ve been in social work for decades). Let me echo Maura; the only place I’ve ever been organized is in my kitchen. Before I ever knew mise on place, I had to have everything laid out before I could cook. My mother was a very good cook, who could take a huge onion, hold it in her hand and cut it into perfectly symetrical dice; she didn’t feel the need to have everything lined up, but my cutting skill never matched hers, so when I started to cook, I always prepped first.

    I’m off to prep for the Bolognese sauce I’m making for tomorrow’s Tsunami Tuesday gathering.

  • Tags

    You know you’re a professional when you can tell the difference between mise en place and “seems in place.”

  • Greg Turner

    Béchamel was a key to my early cooking and is fantastic on pasta. Couple it with sausage, and what’s not to like?

    I think your statements about meeze are dead on. The broad-based notion of having materials on hand and space enough to reach an end goal are helpful both in and out of the kitchen.

  • jd

    You have a damn photogenic kitchen.

    I’m sure the similarities between cooking (mise in particular) and processing film are not lost in your household. Consistency and quality are the result of good preparation, measurements, temps etc.

    Oh, BTW sausage and bechamel!? I could feel my heart slow down as I read that. Bravo.

  • GG Mora

    Re: Bob delG’s “mental mise en place”… Ever watch ski racers stand at the top of a course with their eyes closed and their hands and body flowing this way and that? I think they call it “visualization“…imagining themselves hurtling down the course.

    Yeah. It’s kinda like that. Only not as icy.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I give u credit to have one blog…there aren’t enough hours in the day to read them let alone write one…however i have known to cook mise en place so long ago i think i was a kid in the kitchen with my mother, only then it didn’t have a name – it was called ‘let’s get all the ingredients ready”!

  • rockandroller

    Without knowing what it was called, “mise” was one of the very early things I remember my Mom teaching me about cooking. Timing things right so everything is done at the same time was the other. Learning the importance of those at an early age was, I think, so important in making me a decent home cook now. Because of her instruction, I think learning how to cook a particular dish and THEN going back and trying to impart the importance of mise and how to pay attention to timing is kind of backwards. I am so lucky I learned this way, I think.

  • misterybus

    My grandmother taught me to cook by the “get-me-hand-me” method. I realize now what a patient woman she was. It took me a while, I was only four when she started with me, but
    I finally began to pull out things for her before she began to cook so I could see just how she did it. I doubt that she would have any idea what mise was but she certainly understood its importance.

  • Bob delGrosso

    My favorite variant of the term “mise en place” seems to have arisen from culinary school instructor culture in response to the need to instill in students the idea that they need to be intellectually as well as physically ready to cook.

    Of course, I am referring to the idea of “mental mise en place.” More than a decade after hearing it for the first time, I’m still trying to figure out how to explain it. The literal translation does not help at all unless you can tell me what “what goes on in the brain put in place” or “put in place what goes on in the brain” means.

    Perhaps it simply means “decide what you are going to do before you do it?” Although I wonder why chef instructors would find it necessary to create such a tortured term as “mental mise en place” when plain language would have sufficed just fine.

    Anyway, I’ve got to get my brain “placed out” before I write my next newspaper column. I’m so not ready.

  • ntsc

    I was doing mise, probably based on a lot of tool use, long before I knew what it was, was called or even that it was common. My wife thought I was crazy.

    Then she took a Boot Camp at CIA and came back doing it herself.

  • Paul DeLuca

    I used to work on cars a lot when I was a teenager and as I got better at it, I learned to read the repair manual completely before I ever picked up a tool. Then I would grab every tool I thought I would need and have it within arms reach. It spared me the frustration of having to crawl out from under the car and run back to the tool bench to get what I needed.

    I like to say that this lesson easily translated to the kitchen as I began to take seriously becoming a better cook, but it took a few missteps to get it to sink in.

    I look at it as a triad: mise en place, good tools, and what I’ll call “process awareness”. If I’m using a recipe, I religiously read it top to bottom before I start doing anything. If I’m cooking off the top of my head, I at least run through the process in my head to get the order and timing of my cooking roughed out. Sometimes I make notes for myself to organize the process. It’s invaluable in ensuring a relaxed flow in the kitchen and can be the difference between expected results and disaster.

  • hollerhither

    Combining the two blogs is a great idea — fundamentals, politics, commentary, there’s something for everyone.

    I’ve finished “Elements” — it helped me get over my fear of risotto, sans recipe, even. It also inspired me to start building my sauce repetoire, once I get my hands on some veal bones.

    Your book will certainly help home cooks like me gain the confidence to untether from a cookbook/recipe (not that there’s anything wrong with cookbooks, love ‘em) and experiment, utilizing the fundamentals you describe.

  • Badger

    Using a mise en place and buying decent knives are the two things that have most changed my life in the kitchen (for the better, I mean) as a home cook. The small amount of prep time involved in throwing one together is ABSOLUTELY worth it, and I really think that if more home cooks took the time to do it, more people would be cooking at home. Er, if that makes any sense.

  • Maura

    Ruhlman said:
    “Having good mise en place is a metaphor for being organized in your life and in your mind.”

    The only place I’m organized is in the kitchen.

    Due to some health problems and recent surgery, my husband has taken over kitchen maintenance, although I’m now able to do most of the cooking. Before I can set things up, I have to actually find them, and I never know where anything is. He can’t keep track of where I want my most important tools, so he thinks “If I were a spatula, where would I be?” He tries, you know, and I don’t know what I’d do without him, but I’ve lost control of my kitchen. That’s the metaphor for my life.

  • doodad

    Most definitely the most important lesson in cooking is the mise. When I began to seriously try to improve my cooking as a new husband and father, I turned to my favorite. Asian cooking.

    If you don’t have your mise together when the wok is smoking hot……hopefully the second time around you will.