The process of cooking actually starts before the oven has been turned on, or the grill has been lit. In fact, the preparations begin the moment you decide to cook something!
But how it goes from there is ultimately up to you — it can be a whirlwind of chaotic energy, or a steady, calm process, where each step unfolds into the next with ease. The latter option is the vibe we prefer, because the more pleasant and rewarding the experience is, the more likely you are to want to do it again!
One of the best ways you can set yourself up for cooking success is to borrow something from professional chefs and restaurant kitchens called mise en place.
Mise en place is a French term that translates to "putting in place," and it’s a philosophy as much as it is a technique. What it really means is that all of your ingredients are prepped, consistently organized, and ready to go by the time the pan is heating up on the burner.
If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen or gotten to peek behind the scenes, surely you’ve noticed how each station is tidily set up and ready for service. This usually includes containers or half-pans full of prepped ingredients, seasonings, and garnishes. When orders come in, filling them is more a matter of assembly than anything else. This type of set up enables efficiency, which is the secret to how line cooks and chefs can put out so much food in such a short period of time.
But you don’t have to be a trained chef to adopt the practice of mise en place into your cooking routines! Here are a few tips to set up your space for best use and maximum cooking enjoyment:
Before you begin, take a moment to make sure that all the tools you may need are clean, dried, and ready for use. This means countertops are free of clutter, the sink is empty of dirty dishes, your knives are sharpened, your cutting board is wiped down, and there is a stack of fresh, clean kitchen towels and an oven mitt nearby. If you’re using a cast iron skillet or pan, make sure it’s clean and properly seasoned, and if you need any other type of gadget, like a citrus juicer, cheese grater, etc., have it nearby.
This is also a great time to cue up your favorite cooking jams and pour a glass of wine or sparkling water if you like to have a little cooking bevvie on hand.
Prep Every Step
Once you’ve geared up, take a look through the recipe you want to make, noticing how each ingredient is meant to be prepared. Take a few minutes to accomplish all of those tasks in advance. The last thing you want to be doing is chiffonading herbs when the finished dish is hot and ready!
It may seem like prepping everything in advance will take extra time, but in truth, it will save you time and headaches! This is especially true for dishes like stir-fries which come together quickly and don’t leave much time to prep on the fly.
So, prep each ingredient as completely as you can. This may mean weighing out flour; washing and drying fresh greens; chopping onions, carrots, and celery; peeling and mincing garlic and ginger; portioning out grains, legumes, or pasta; and pre-measuring liquids, like olive oil, chicken broth, or heavy cream. You can also set out small bowls or ramekins with pre-measured salt, spices, herbs, and saucy ingredients, like soy sauce, harissa, or tahini.
When you step back, you’ll see an organized work station, with every ingredient ready for its grand entrance into the recipe. It’s such a great feeling to know that, from that point on, you can fully focus on the sensory experience of cooking, without rushing back and forth between the sink, the cutting board, and the stove. This level of preparation also helps cut down on unfortunate things that can happen when you’re rushing or multi-tasking too much, like accidentally forgetting ingredients or skipping steps; over/undercooking things; spilling things; or cutting yourself. The more deliberate, intentional, and present you are while cooking, the better the results will be!
We hope this has been a helpful mini-tutorial on the concept of mise en place. Stay tuned for more blog posts about how to best set yourself up for success in the kitchen! Now that you’re in the cooking mood, head over to ZENB’s recipe collection to explore our collection of over 150 plant-fueled recipes. And, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for more cooking tips and inspiration.