More By This Author

Current Issue

Current Issue

Posted: March 21, 2013

Chef Laura: Meez, please

The art of being prepared

Laura Cook Newman

Hang around a pro kitchen for about three minutes, and you’ll hear someone say mise en place. Not being in France we probably garble it:  Meezen Plas.

Chefs use it as both a verb and a noun.  We even shortened it with a cute pet name – meez. The literal translation is “put in place,"  but ask three different chefs what it really means, and you’ll get three different answers:

  1. “Everything in its place” – the recent culinary school graduate (aka the “FNG”)
  2. “Setting up my station” – the Line Cook
  3. “Gittin’  my stuff together”  – the Old Timer

We culinary magicians hang our toque on the adage “Fail to plan, plan to fail.”  Mise en place is the water bucket that keeps our night from going up in flames.

Once you understand the nuances of mise en place, you’ll find it’s got a pretty significant civilian use, too. 

It isn’t just being organized or having all your ducks in a row  Mise en place is strategic.  Like a nail-biting chess match, you’ve thought five steps ahead.

For example, regular ol’ “being prepared” is having a pan of diced chicken ready for the popular curry chicken salad. 

Being mise en place’d for the same menu item looks more like this:

  • same as above plus a backup 6-pan of diced cooked chicken in the reach-in,
  • plus a back up Lexan of whole cooked chicken breasts in the walk-in,
  • plus a hotel pan of raw chicken breast in the walk-in,
  • plus a case of frozen chicken breast in the freezer. 

And by the way, everything is wrapped, labeled, dated and FIFO’ed (First In First Out’d).

Does that make us Phil Hartman’s SNL character “The Anal Retentive Chef”?  I will neither confirm nor deny that comparison.  I will say that embracing Mise en Place has helped my life beyond the kitchen.  For example:

  1. Exit, Stage Left.  Yes, I’m still herding cats a bit, but on school nights my girls and I mise en place lunchboxes, backpacks, outfits and breakfast to ensure a smooth(er) morning. 
  2. Bon Voyage! Channel your inner George Clooney in Up in the AirAs a frequent flyer, packing my carry-on has become a task that I can complete in five minutes flat.  The secret: don’t fully unpack from the last trip, have duplicates of toiletries and makeup (one set at home, one in the suitcase), and consider adopting somewhat of a work/travel “uniform”.
  3. 15 second scan – Ever thrown a party and, as good-natured guests arrive, they offer “Can I help you with anything?”  Most hostesses smile and say “I’m good, but thanks for asking.”  She may need help, but doesn’t have time to explain that the wine charms need to be hooked onto the stemware.  When you’re skilled in the art of Mise en Place, you become the ideal party guest.  You can instinctively survey any situation, and seamlessly jump in without the hostess uttering a word…except a silently mouthed “Thank you!” across the room.

Mise en place takes practice, but it’s tremendously rewarding.  It’s a cool “super power” that proves much more useful in the real world than shooting cobwebs out of your wrists.  My spontaneous friends pooh-pooh my Meez-ways, but then they’re the ones wearing lace up boots to DIA.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

I like all your wonderful ideas to simplify life. By Doug Miller on 2013 03 22
Chef Laura, This is great advice! I love your column. I look forward to reading more! By Golden Girl on 2013 03 22
Chef Laura, Some good info. But this olde timer had to look up "FNG" on my interweb Google machine. Thought it might mean Fresh Nerd Grad or Fine New Garnish? But then I looked in the mirror and realized it could stand for "Flabby Neck Geezer" Am I right? By Abe Froman, Sausage King on 2013 03 21
Hum, I never thought of using this in my day to day planning (even though my fishin' gear is there and ready to go!). Brilliant suggestions, no wwhere did I put my note pad... By Troy on 2013 03 21
Readers, take heed of anything this chef advises you on the value of mise en place. She's a master at it and his been honing her skills since age 3! I ought to know . . . I'm her Mom. Tricia Cook By Tricia Cook on 2013 03 21
Super Powers, indeed! In admiration... By Hacienda Maven on 2013 03 21
I can so relate...I'm a planner...while not a chef, i will continue putting mise en place as it is applicable in so many aspects of our daily, hectic lives! Interesting read... By Nicole Aulik on 2013 03 21
Chef Laura - Thank you for the cute article. I like the 15 second scan idea. I will work this concept into my life and work on being more aware and present with my coworkers, family, and friends. By Pam R on 2013 03 21
Dear NWIB, by "camping" do you mean staying at a La Quinta? Just kidding (sort of). Yes, we Chefs aren't exactly known for our...err...how you say...patience? As long as someone brought beer, I consider that a successfully planned camping trip. By Chef Laura on 2013 03 21
Mr. Meez, Congratulations on embracing your newly recognized super power! I will happily stand behind YOU at DIA wearing my slip-on Danskos. . By Chef Laura on 2013 03 21
Chef Laura, Obviously this is a good concept to run a kitchen (and a life by). It reminds me of the boy scout pledge to "always be prepared". I wonder though, do all chef's (and others in the food industry) embrace this? And does it bother you when you are dealing with folks who don't? Also I bet you never have anything missing when you go camping! By Nothings where it belongs on 2013 03 21
I didn't realize that I was already living the mise en place life. I keep a special bag packed all the time of my gels and liquids in a special clear plastic container that has its own pocket in my carry on, so I never have to deal with TSA and liquids. This is good advice and I will try to incorporate it into more of my non food service life. By Mr. Mise en Place on 2013 03 21
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

ColoradoBiz TV

Loading the player ...

Featured Video