Mise en place and why I love to cook
Mise en place is a French phrase meaning putting in place, often used in professional kitchens. The idea being that prepping and measuring out your ingredients and organizing your station before food service will save time when the orders come flying in.
I love the idea of mise en place. I don’t practice it every time I cook, but it always feels so much better when I do. I should probably learn from that lesson in other areas of my life.
The culture of professional kitchens and chefs is intensely appetizing to me. The rise of the celebrity chef and popularity of cooking shows suggests that I’m not alone.
There’s something cool and mysterious about the world of restaurant kitchens. The militaristic hierarchy system, complete with standard uniform and ranks. The jargon like in the weeds, and make it nice. The tattoos, piercings, and scars. The traditions and superstitions. The camaraderie and cooperation. The artistry, skill, and technique. Being a chef is a romantic, artistic profession that’s all about taking care of other people. That’s the kind of job I would love to have. For now I’ll have to settle for cooking at home, which has a magic all its own.
Finding the joy of cooking
One of the reasons cooking appeals to me is that it requires the perfect amount of my brain power and attention. Unless I’m just throwing something together, when I’m really cooking, I’m hyper-focused on what to do next. I don’t have time for any distractions, thoughts or otherwise.
Dice the potatoes first, they’ll take the longest. Salt and pepper.
Garlic and onion next, they need time to caramelize. Season again.
Check the oven. 10 minutes. Good.
What’s next…what’s next?
Cooking gives me with a checklist for a finished product, while still allowing room for spontaneity and artistic flourishes. It feels good to tick off the boxes on my mental list as I go along and at the end, if I did it right, I’m rewarded with a delicious meal.
What I really love the most about cooking is that room for improvisation. It’s the opportunity for innovation and novelty that gives cooking the feeling of soul. If every dish followed the exact same recipe and nobody ever thought to throw in a dash of this or sprinkle of that, cooking would be far less magical.
I love that there are thousands of family recipes floating around out there in the world that all have a secret ingredient. That one special thing that makes it their own. I love that when people talk about those secret family recipes, somehow grandma can always make it better than they can. Even when they do know the secret ingredient.
Cooking is also frequently a selfless act. Sure, you get to partake in the meal you created, but more often it’s about feeding someone else. Cooking must be the most frequently performed act of selflessness in the world, and that’s a lovely thought.
“I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.” — Julia Child
I’m a long-time aspiring writer that’s making an effort to realize those aspirations through daily blogging.
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