The What, Why and How of Mise en Place for the Student Cook

In English, it means “everything in its place”. Learn what it is, why it’s important and how to use mise en place to set yourself up for success in the kitchen.

green vegetable on brown wooden table

Besides the delicious meal, one of the gifts of cooking is a calm, organized way of making the meal. Wait, what? What do you mean by “calm” and “organized”? Isn’t cooking more like what you see on the cooking shows–ingredients are strewn about everywhere, people yelling at each other, pots boiling over and things burning in the oven?

No this isn’t cooking–at least it doesn’t have to be. Even if you’re a student who’s new to the kitchen because this is the first time you’re away from home there’s one thing you can do that every chef has done since at least the 18th century–it’s called mise en place. This guide will explain what it is, why it’s important and give you tips for how to do mise en place to set yourself up for success in your kitchen!

What is Mise en Place?

​​One of the first lessons you learn in culinary school is the importance of getting your preparation done before you start to cook. Get each of the ingredients and the kitchen tools you need on the counter. Do all of your chopping. Trim your meat or seafood. Make your marinades.

The French call this “mise en place”, which loosely translated means “everything in its place”. If you want to sound fancy to your friends, it’s pronounced “MEEZ ahn plahs”. But translation is about more than just substituting words, says The Spruce Eats. It’s about conveying the idea behind the words. And the idea of mise en place is all about being prepared.

In the world of cooking, mise en place refers to gathering and setting up everything required to prepare a dish, or multiple dishes in large quantities in restaurant kitchens, making sure each ingredient is ready to play its role before the actual cooking begins. 

According to the Michelin Guide, the concept of mise en place dates back to the 18th century when culinary royalty Georges-Auguste Escoffier based his kitchen brigade system on his years of experience as a soldier in the French army, “applying a military-like hierarchy to the restaurant kitchen”.

As Joshna Maharaj, one of our Communal Lunch Project chefs likes to say: “Mise en place is like a gift from your present self to your future self when cooking.”

Ingredients and cutting board set up
chopped vegetables on cutting board

Why use Mise en Place in your kitchen

It’s kind of a no-brainer. Using mise en place at the start of any food preparation makes the actual cooking and assembly of a dish or a meal, quite simple–which sets you up for success.

Reading the recipe before you start puts the idea of what you need to do into your head. Getting all of the ingredients onto the counter means you won’t forget one. Making sure your kitchen tools are at hand means you won’t scramble for them when you need them. Doing the cleaning and chopping means you won’t be distracted by too many tasks when you’re cooking–and you won’t run the risk of overcooking anything because you’re too busy chopping. 

If you’re cooking with family or friends, mise en place also helps to share labour at mealtime. Maybe one person does the mise en place, another person does the cooking and puts the dish together, and another person does the cleanup. Just like in a restaurant kitchen, you can rotate through these different positions so everyone gets a chance to develop their skills. 

At the end of the meal, using mise en place is always worth the effort.

Author A.A. Milne has some words on organizing that apply to mise en place: “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.”

How to Mise en Place

Alright, so let’s get down to some practical ways you can do mise en place in your kitchen. Chef Joshna has ideas to do mise en place for the whole week, and for the moment you’re cooking.

Mise en place for the week

Here are some tips to keep your kitchen clean and running smoothly each day:

  • Clean your fridge every week or two
  • Pull leaves off greens to save space in the fridge
  • Get rid of slimy things…enough said
  • Look at best if used by dates on products
  • Use up any small bits with a big batch dish on the weekend (think soups or stews)

Mise en place for the dish or meal

Here’s how to do mise en place when you’re ready to make something so there are no (OK, fewer) dramatic moments in your kitchen:

  • Read the recipe–twice
  • Pull all of the ingredients on the counter
  • Get each of the kitchen tools out, and preheat as needed
  • Clean and chop the ingredients as the recipe outlines
  • Measure out things like liquids and spices–even the small amounts
  • Make your marinade and/or mix your spices together in a single bowl

Mise en place isn’t only for complex dishes–it’s for everything. “Even in the moment of cooking a simple thing like an omelette, doing mise en place is important”, says Chef Joshna, “Everybody who cooks does it.”

Here’s the thing, mise en place has benefits that go deeper than successfully making a dish or a meal. “This is a dorky thing a chef might say…when I’m chopping, peeling, mixing it’s connected to how every chef–famous or not–has done it before me”, says Chef Joshna, “It grounds me in the moment, in the act of cooking.”

Maybe mise en place doesn’t start with reading the recipe? It starts by pausing for a moment of mindfulness for yourself. Take two deep, whole breaths to bring your whole self into the kitchen.

Prepping and cooking meals can be a meditative, quiet thing that you do alone or a fun collective activity with friends, but it should always be joyful. Mise en place helps set you up to have this sort of positive experience–especially when you’re learning how to cook.

“A simple homemade dish made by one’s hands can go a long way, mentally and physically, in a student’s life.” said Himani Deshpande, student @ Carleton University

Joshna is a chef, author & activist who cares a lot about people's relationship with food. She works to rebuild food systems in public institutions putting hospitality and sustainability as a top priority.

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