A Place For Everything and Everything In Its Place

by JP Davy - Wednesday, March 10, 2021

What separates those that can execute (mostly) flawlessly from those that struggle to focus?

Our family has been watching Worst Cooks from the Food Network on Hulu. It's great, family-friendly entertainment. One of the concepts that Chef Anne Burrell teaches the worst cooks is Mise-en-place: a French saying roughly translated to "putting in place" or "everything in its place." It's a phrase mainly used in the culinary world, but, and I'm not the first person to say this, it also applies to ordinary, everyday life.

As we approach the one year mark of the beginning of pandemic working from home, I'm noticing life is picking up pace for me. Things are getting busy at work, at home, seemingly everywhere. Our 6th grader, who is doing remote learning, is also struggling to keep pace with the rest of the class who is doing in-person learning. When everything seems to be at a frantic pace, and I feel overwhelmed with a litany of tasks, I keep hearing Chef Anne Burrell's voice screaming "mise-en-place!"

From this article on NPR's website, For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef by Dan Charnas, I can see that I'm not the only non-culinary person who keeps it running through my head. The culinary world seems to deal with a frantic pace in the kitchen quite well. It makes sense -- preparing food for tons of people at a restaurant takes a person who has their wits about them, is cool under pressure, and most importantly, can organize themselves, their thoughts, and their workstation continuously. I think even the keyword there is continuously. It's a cycle: organize, clean up, execute, clean up. Repeat.

Here are a couple of good quotes from that article to further drive home the point and summarize the benefits gained from this:

“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.”

“ Across town at Telepan, chef and owner Bill Telepan explains another principle of mise-en-place: slow down to speed up.

'I always say, 'Look, I'd rather you take an extra minute or two and slow up service to get it right.' Because the one minute behind you are now is going to become six minutes behind because we're going to have to redo the plate.'

Upstairs in the kitchen, this issue plays out as Telepan coaches a new chef on how to make, of all things, a grilled cheese sandwich:

'That's not done; fire another one,' he says. 'Be patient. I know it's a grilled cheese sandwich but it's gotta be a [expletive] great grilled cheese sandwich, you know what I mean?'”

Mise-en-place, JP! Mise-en-place!

Cover Photo by Rudy Issa on Unsplash