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3 Things to Learn From Chefs Who Practice “Mise En Place”

3 Things to Learn From Chefs Who Practice “Mise En Place”

In a recent NPR article, For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef,” by Dan Chamas, he suggests that we just might learn something more than food preparation from these masters of organization and production. The CIA uses this cooking discipline, “Mise-en-place”  in the training of their agents. But let me warn you that this article is not for the faint of heart. Obsession is just the beginning of this journey of absolute time and ingredient management. Proceed with caution!

1. Have your life in place (your compass).

Now the secret to all this is a simple phrase, “Mise-en-place” which means to “put in place” in French. It is the art and science of gathering and arranging all the cooking tools and ingredients needed for preparing your creation without interruption. Many times the preparation and the arrangement of all your kitchen tools and ingredient measurements and assembly will take longer than the actual cooking and serving time.

So what are the ingredients in our lives that could compare to the chef’s kitchen? Well the choices we make for our significant other, our career, our friends, our living quarters, our education levels all affect what we do in our day-to-day. Then when we are at critical mass, we live within those choices. And are we living in our prisons or our countrysides?

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And are those choices the right ingredients to create our “Life-meal”? Are you “conducting” your life correctly? The chef is like the conductor of a great symphony orchestra. Everything must be in balance and added in correct time. Nothing must be late. Nothing must be rushed. Nothing must be too heavily seasoned. Nothing must be too loud or too soft. A perfect performance and a perfectly prepared meal are many times one in the same.

 2. Have your mind in place (your Zen).

The “Mise-en-place” or “Cooking Zen” must be located mentally before the real cooking can begin. Without it, mistakes are made, time is wasted, and your creation will not become what it was destined to become.

“It starts with your list,” says Wylie Dufresne, the James Beard award-winning chef and owner of New York restaurants wd~50 and Alder.

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“What I used to do is, let’s say I had 23 items of mise-en-place I had to do every day. So I’d take a pad and I’d write them all down on the way home. And then I would crumple the list up and throw it out,” he says. “On my way to work I’d write the list again. And you become one with your list. You and the list are the same, because the list is scorched into your head.”

Dan Chamas’s article says, ”But for many culinary professionals, the phrase connotes something deeper. Some cooks call it their religion. It helps them coordinate vast amounts of labor and material, and transforms the lives of its practitioners through focus and self-discipline”.

“I know people that have it tattooed on them,” says Melissa Gray, a senior at the Culinary Institute of America. “It really is a way of life … it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.”

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And it’s a habit that some culinary students carry with them even when they’re not in the kitchen. “You mise-en-place your life. You set up your books for class, you set up your chef whites, your shoes are shined, you know everything that you need every step of the day,” says Alexandra Tibbats, another student at the CIA.

Gray says that she now arranges her home office as she would her mise-en-place. “My desk is specifically organized based off of where I reach for things the most. [It’s] being so methodical to the point that you continually put your pen back in one specific place.”

3. Have your time in place (your clock).

Dan continues by saying that some chefs believe that mise-en-place is nothing more than a kitchen version of good old-fashioned military discipline. After all, the rigid culinary hierarchy codified in the 19th century by Georges-Auguste Escoffier is called the “brigade system.”

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“A chef, because of mise-en-place, he’s always on time,” says Andre Soltner, dean of the International Culinary Center in New York City.

He demands the same kind of efficiency outside his kitchen. “If I go to the doctor, and if he’s not ready, I leave. And that’s because of mise-en-place.”

So center your life with your Compass, find your mindset with your Zen, and prepare each day on time with your Clock just like you were in the kitchen or conducting a symphony orchestra. No one else will do it better! Find out where your “Mise-en-place” is today and live a delicious and nutritious life tomorrow!

 

Featured photo credit: Bruce Binn at Spork via ts1.mm.bing.net

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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