mise en place


One of the things I admire most about Chef is his thriftiness: nothing goes to waste.

Last Saturday our produce supplier left a case each of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries – about $130 worth of fruit — when all we had ordered were a couple of pints of each to use as garnishes on the dessert plates. When Chef called to tell them of their mistake, they said we could keep the fruit since they couldn’t get back to pick it up. They gave us a credit for it as well. Even though it was free, Chef hardly lost a berry. Our pastry chef used some of them in special desserts and then Chef made a blackberry sauce to use with a duck special this weekend, a raspberry vinaigrette, a blueberry-vanilla vinaigrette, and a strawberry chutney. We made a mistake and ordered an extra case of arugula, so he had me make an arugula pesto to use with a halibut special tonight. In the six weeks I’ve worked there, I’ve not seen him throw away anything that went bad before we could use it.

The amazing thing to me is he is thrifty and creative at the same time. The surplus of greens and berries gave birth to the evening’s salad special: rocket greens (a cooler name for arugula) on a bed of Bibb lettuce with raspberry vinaigrette, Blue Hill gorgonzola cheese, and candied walnuts. The halibut dish was a pan roasted filet served with lobster mashed potatoes (that’s right: mashed potatoes with pieces of lobster meat mixed in), arugula pesto beurre blanc, and a salad of baby arugula and tomatoes from our garden. Both dishes were made with things we were using up and things we always have on hand.

He makes it look easy. It’s not.

Our kitchen is set up, much like many restaurants, where each station has containers to hold both hot and cold items to be used to prepare the dishes. The restaurant term for this is mise en place, a French word that translates “everything in place.” The idea is to do as much of the preparation as can be done ahead of time so the final dishes can be prepared in a timely fashion. At my station, I have a cold bar that holds sixteen “six pans,” each one with a different item or sauce. I also have four refrigerated drawers that hold the fish and the vegetables I need to function. Each drawer holds six or eight things. Chef has a similar set up at his grill station and between us is a steam table with all the sauces we use.

One of the ways he keeps up with things is to have us change out all containers that hold our mise en place every night. No exceptions. The primary issue is one of sanitation, but not too far behind is the idea that we have to check everything every night. We know what’s there, what’s not, and what needs to be done the next day.

This morning before I went to work, Ginger and I spent some time working on getting our house prepared to go on the market this weekend. (Want to buy a house at the beach?) I carried some things out to the garage, which is the antithesis of Chef’s kitchen. Besides the jumble of things we use, there are boxes in the back that have not been opened since we moved them from our last house in Charlestown and put them in the back of the garage. I don’t even think I’m going to open them. I’ll just take them straight to the dump.

In the kitchen I keep a clean and efficient station. I have what I need and only what I need. At home, I’m a pack rat. I have way more than I need. If mise en place means “everything in place,” I need the French term for “everything in every place” – maybe mess en place would work.

Ginger and I are working hard to take as little stuff with us as we can. Rather than telling the movers what we have and let them tell us how much room we’ll need, we’re thinking about choosing a container and then letting it determine how much stuff will go with us. When it’s full, that’s it. I hope we can pull it off. I have shelves and shelves of books, most of which have served me well and deserve to find life with someone else. I have a number of them I consider to be life long companions, but a good deal of them – probably most – need to find new life without me. The library is just the beginning. I need to do the same culling with my clothes, my CDs, all of my belongings. If everything is to be in place, then I need to have less everything.

What I want to take are the things I need to be myself and to be prepared to do what I need to do. Truth is, I’m not sure that’s a very long list at all.



  1. I read something tonight that talked about ‘enough’ being ‘just a little less than what we have’. I struggle with this; there is so much stuff in my environment that I simply don’t need – and yet I can’t seem to find a way to let it go.

    I hope your move prompts a good cleansing for you.

    Great post.

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