Thomas Keller is one of the most respected chefs around; his restaurants Per Se and The French Laundry have won numerous awards. So when Keller gives advice, as he did in his book Ad Hoc at Home, it’s worth listening. Greg Baugues points to the following excerpt:
Being organized — as we say in our kitchen, ‘working clean’ — is a skill to develop. We call it mise-en-place, French for, literally, ‘put in place.’ The term can be very specific, referring to ingredients needed to complete a recipe, measured out and ready to use, or it can be more general: are you organized, do you have everything you need to accomplish the task at hand?
Good organization is all about setting yourself up to succeed. It means getting rid of anything that would interfere with the process of making a recipe or preparing an entire meal.
On Unclutterer, we’ve written about mise en place before, but this quote got me thinking (as it did for Bauges) about how we can extend the concept beyond the kitchen.
For example, my mise en place for going anywhere in the car involves having the following items with me:
- My wallet with my credit cards, ATM card, driver’s license, medical and auto insurance cards, auto club card and a set amount of cash
- My keys
- My smartphone, charged up, with interesting podcasts loaded and with driving instructions (if needed) ready to go
- A full water bottle and some energy bars
- If shopping is involved: some reusable tote bags and any coupons I plan to use
- At least a half tank of gas (because if there’s an earthquake, getting gas might be difficult)
All of these items have their specific places, too, so that they’re readily available when I need them.
Having once had a minor accident in a parking lot, and discovering to my horror that the insurance card in my wallet was out of date, I know how important it is to make sure I do indeed have everything in order. And I know how discombobulated I feel if I forget my water bottle, even for a short trip.
But the “getting rid of things” part applies, too. It’s easier to listen to new podcasts if I’ve deleted the ones I’ve already listened to. And my car will be better prepared for future trips if I’ve made sure to remove everything that doesn’t need to be there: purchases from prior trips, the wrapper from an energy bar eaten on the last long drive, etc. If I’m making an emergency run to the doctor with a neighbor, as I did recently, I need to ensure the passenger seat and floor space are clean, not loaded with stuff that shouldn’t be in the car.
Another example: Any home improvement or repair project (assembling furniture, fixing a leak, and so on) will go much easier with an appropriate mise en place. Having all the necessary tools right at hand and having a clean workspace for using them will avoid all sorts of problems.
Do you use a mise en place equivalent for tasks beyond cooking? If so, please share in the comments.