What is mise en place?

mise en place...Ethos of the Kitchen

The easy answer is, “everything in its place.” It’s a French phrase meaning that everything is organized and ready…But it is sooo much more!

Years ago when I was in culinary school I was working at a four diamond hotel in Stowe, Vermont. Chef Louis Chabot handed me a BEO for a small banquet and told me to set it up for service.

I gathered and arranged all the food on the plating table and waited for the Chef. He arrived with a few other cooks to start the plate up. He looks around and asked, “Where are the plates?” I scrambled and grabbed plates for the event. Then he asked, “Why aren’t these plates hot!?” I scrambled and flashed them in the oven quick and brought them back to the plating table. Chef’s next comment was,”Buchanan, where are the fucking serving utensils?!”

After the event was plated Chef Louis took me aside and had a frank conversation with me about the meaning of mise en place and having your station ready. Part of the conversation went something like, “If you consider yourself a professional cook then the Chef shouldn’t have to think for you.” I had nothing to say…he was absolutely correct and it opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.

To this day it is one of my most memorable and succinct learning experiences.

In the professional kitchen mise en place is more of a philosophy or a way of life rather than just a simple phrase. Mise en place is everything needed to make the shift as smooth as possible. It is not just your food and prep. It is also actively maintaining a well organized station, having all of your tools, utensils, and plates. If you have questions regarding a recipe or a plate design then proper mise en place demands that you have resolved it before service. It includes a “professional cook” mind-set (regardless of how you feel!), a “get it done” attitude, your mental awareness, a sense of urgency… Everything!

We learn it, we teach it, we get it tattooed on our bodies! As Chef Randy Burns has said, “Mise en place is a state of Mind.” It becomes an integral part of how we think. Whether we are working to implement a new recipe, planning an off-site catered event, or going camping with the family, the philosophy of mise en place infuses our souls with the need to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Everything in its place. A plan for everything.

Your mise en place makes or breaks you during a busy shift. The quality, freshness, and organization of mise en place in a station reveals the quality and professionalism of the cook. A poorly mise’d station reveals a disorganized or lazy cook.

Proper mise en place means that you are the master of your domain. You know how many covers you should do tonight, you know if it’s a holiday, or if there’s some other special event going on which may impact your covers. If a prep cook does some of your mise then you have verified the quantities and seen where the backups are stored. Trust no one, you verify it yourself.

If you’ve been having issues with one of your ovens then you have a “plan B” for how to make the night work. If one of the cooks was sick yesterday then you already have an idea of how the chef may deal with that today and how it will impact you… And you’ve made a mental adjustment to your attitude to be able to cope with it.

Mise en Place is defined as:

mise en place - Pride, Passion, Dedication
  • The Ethos of the kitchen
  • So much more than minced shallots
  • Hope for the best, plan for the worst
  • Seconds save minutes
  • The foundation of success
  • The foundation of a successful shift
  • It makes or breaks you
  • A way of life
  • Learn it, know it, live it
  • Prep, Attitude, Focus, Drive
  • Slapping Murphy’s Law into place
  • Telling that bitch Murphy’s Law to sit the fuck down
  • Organization of product, tools, and mind
  • Seeing and preventing a problem before it arrives

For further reading on this topic check-out this great article by Chef Randy Burns entitled “Mise en Place”, a State of Mind