This week’s obsession: Mise En Place
Say what now?
Mise en place.
It’s a French phrase, pronounced [MEEZ ohn ploss]. It translates to “putting in place” and is a practice used by chefs and artists to organize their workspace and/or the composition of their artwork.
Mise en place is an extremely helpful practice when it comes to photographing my workspace, as well as for helping me keep my cool in the kitchen. No joke, when I feel the anxiety ramping up (as it sometimes can when the pressure is on to make your dessert turn out perfectly because there are NO other options.), I take a look around and my kitchen usually looks like a tornado blew through. That’s when I know that it’s time to take a moment to reset my kitchen, organize my tools, put away the ingredients that I’ve finished working with, wipe down my counters, and just straighten up in general. Once I wrangle the mess, I can continue on with my work with a much lower stress level.
For instance, take a look at this comparison photo I took of my workspace several years ago vs. the workspace of some coworkers to whom I affectionately referred to as "The Lost Boys".
Can you feel the stress radiating out of that second photo? Because I do! Remembering that workspace still gives me anxiety! There is a reason why I wouldn't let them share a table with me.
But mise en place is deeper than just keeping organized. It is more often referred to as the practice of setting up your workspace with all of the tools and ingredients that you’ll need before getting started. In pastry school, we called this “scaling out” because we had to take the time to measure out everything for our recipes on a scale. Besides, having all of my ingredients measured and ready to go cuts down on mistakes (have you ever doubled a recipe on the fly and then once you mix everything you realize that you didn’t double the flour and now you have soup instead of cake batter? It's rough.) which in turn, cuts down on costs. Plus it gives me more time to decorate - which is my absolute favorite part!
These days I use a modified version of mise en place because I hate using unnecessary dishes and I like to be incredibly efficient with my workspace. My modifications typically go like this: if I’m baking, the butter and sugar are typically my starters so they will be measured directly into the mixing bowl, while the dry ingredients get sifted together into one bowl instead of each one going into separate small bowls. Same for the wet ingredients. Unless the recipe specifies that one of them must go in separately, the eggs, vanilla, milk, espresso (for chocolate-y things), etc. are all mixed together in one bowl and set aside until needed. This way, I have reduced my clean up from one bowl for each of the ingredients, which can sometimes be more than 10, to three bowls. And that is definitely more my style!
For instance, when I made the frosting for this week’s batch of cupcakes, my kitchen looked like this:
I was all stressed out about dying the frosting colors correctly to match the theme of the party, and I kept pulling out more tools and ingredients, and everything just got out of hand. And I thought to myself, I could never take a picture of this disaster! So that’s what I did. I photographed the disaster in my kitchen so everyone would know the truth - sometimes things get messy! Then I took a moment to reset everything and snapped another picture - one that would be better suited for social media.
All of this to say, mise en place is an incredibly powerful technique to have in your arsenal if you’re tackling a large project and need help knowing where to begin. That’s my tip of the week for you! Also, look at where this practice got me:
Happy eating, y’all!