Over the last few years, I’ve been on a number of adventures around the world that have opened my eyes and inspired me to think in different ways. A lot of these adventures have inspired valuable lessons that have stuck with me, and others have inspired recipes as well! That gave me the idea to start a new series, which I’m calling “Food Exploring.” Once a month, I’ll dust off one of these adventures and share what lessons and recipes that particular adventure inspired!
This is a food lesson I learned long before my adventure in Guy Savoy’s beautiful restaurant kitchen in Las Vegas, but that adventure is a reminder to share it. Life goes a lot more smoothly if you take a little time beforehand for mise en place.
Mise en place is a French phrase that means “everything in its place.” It’s used to describe the industrial kitchen standard of preparing and organizing ingredients that the cook will need for the night’s service. It sounds suspiciously like a phrase my preternaturally organized grandfather always used: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
He wasn’t a chef. He was an Army aviation officer. Which makes perfect sense given the amount of similarity there is between culinary and military systems of discipline.
Kitchens are arranged as cooking brigades. The Austin Chronicle has a great article here about the military roots of the modern culinary system. Georges-Auguste Escoffier developed the Brigade System for the culinary world in the 19th century, and it demands military discipline. The chef is the commander. His executive officer is his sous-chef. His staff members are the chefs de partie, each in charge of a particular station or crew. It’s a system that serves very well in industrial kitchens.
And it serves us well in life. It reminds you time is precious.
Preparing well beforehand can save you critical time you need to get things done and deal with disasters later!
A good mise en place just plain makes you a better cook. Gather everything together before you start. Slice all your carrots, dice all your onions, measure all your spices, and set it all out.
That way, when it comes time to cook, you don’t even have to think about how much of what you need or how much time it will take you to appropriately Batonnet or Brunoise cut your vegetables. It’s already done. When it comes to that point in your recipe, you just throw it in!
This applies to the rest of life, too. How, you ask?
By helping you prepare and plan.
People spend fortunes on personal organization systems and products. The market is a huge one, because a lot of places don’t teach systems of organization. The kitchen and the military do. Keeping things organized, scheduled, regimented…it’s a way of life and it’s a way you just get used to thinking.
Organization isn’t about perfection. It’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money, and improving your overall quality of life.
Chalk that up as one of my top life priorities lately.
Because the more I can do ahead of time, the more I can plan my systems, research my travel and my itineraries, plan for projects and save money and cut out the mad flailing of money that happens when you go into something without a plan, the more quality time I can spend with my family and doing things that, well, bring me joy.
Maybe life happens along the way. Things get delayed, you get snowed in, but you can plan for emergencies, too, with emergency budgets and buffer time, figuring out alternate activities, making sure you can get a refund or affordable travel insurance, or taking the time to decide it’s worth the risk.
So I think about what I can do to mise en place not just my kitchen but my life.
Every night, I set out what I’m going to wear the next day, for work and the gym, make sure I’ve got my towel and my toiletries, that I’ve got my book for the train in my purse. I put Marcus’s outfits together and make sure his bag has all the materials and toys he needs for the day. If he lets me, I make sure Scott has his things set out and I make all of our lunches. It makes me think through my entire day, reduces stress, and keeps me from scrambling the next morning – which can throw off the entire mood of the day.
Fifteen minutes the night before could save you a lot of stress the next day. And in this crazy world, couldn’t we all use a little bit more room to breathe?