Mise En Place…or Separating the Amateurs From the Pros

So…everyone that is at all serious about cooking has had that moment when they were in the middle of executing a recipe and suddenly realized they needed to peel and chop 3 potatoes, or mince 2 cloves of garlic, or heat an oven to 350. Avoiding these moments that can seriously derail cooking are exactly what mise en place is about. When Top Chef presented a mise en place relay this week, the show did not do a great job of explaining exactly what mise en place is.

Mise en place is French for “setting in place.” It is used to describe the process of preparation of ingredients and equipment before cooking actually takes place. This is where the pros shine, and far too often amateurs prepare poorly or don’t prepare at all. Trust me, if everything is in the right place when you begin, the rest of the cooking process is frequently a breeze. It is truly a cooking best practice.

Executing a mise en place involves 3 elements:

  1. Preparing and placing ingredients – All of the ingredients (and I mean all…even measuring out your liquids like olive oil or water) are prepared (chopping, etc.), measured, and placed into small containers on the counter ready for cooking. If some items like multiple spices are added all at once you may wish to place them in the same small bowl at this point.
  2. Preheating ovens – If your recipe says preheat, this is the time to do it.
  3. Placing utensils and equipment – Some otherwise very talented cooks leave out this step. Place all of your utensils and needed equipment on the counter as well. This can help prevent having to take the time to wash something midway through the process.

All of the elements of the mise en place relay on Top Chef involved ingredient prep. The time taken to prep ingredients is usually the part of the cooking process where practice can shorten the time it takes to execute an entire recipe. If you are new to mise en place, give it a try, and you will be shocked at how easily the actual cooking process unfolds. It is a significant key to a professional approach to cooking. For a much more detailed approach, check out these instructions for turning your entire kitchen into a personal mise en place.