Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs — rhymes with “peas on moss”) is French for “everything in its place.” In culinary usage, the phrase likely made its debut around the turn of the 20th century, when famous chef Auguste Escoffier was developing the brigade system for running a commercial kitchen at London’s legendary Savoy Hotel.
While it may have been coined for pros expected to function with militaristic efficiency, the term has broad implications and has come to suggest anything that can bring order and, well, peace to the act of cooking. This includes but is not limited to reading the entire recipe before you start, double checking the pantry, prepping your ingredients, preheating the oven, unloading the dishwasher, clearing the mail off the kitchen counter, getting the kids’ roller skates off the floor, and convincing the dog not to nap in front of the oven.
For those who like to wing it, the principle may seem like a blow to spontaneity. But anyone who’s ever discovered mid-cake they had one too few eggs or ruined a complex stir-fry because ingredients weren’t ready when needed can appreciate the concept. Moreover, many cooks find that adhering to at least the spirit of the principle brings a sense of calm and dignity to the act of cooking, making it more meditation than madness.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.