Kitchen organization is a way of life…
This article is not about storing your tools and ingredients in cute tubs or jars to make your kitchen prettier. We are instilling a mindset into you at the moment. Organization is key to having successful meals when you are cooking.
It’s all about the Mise En Place.
Mise en place is french for “establishment”. In your kitchen it means to have everything in its’ place. When I worked in restaurant kitchens you would hear, “Make sure your Mise is tight”. Or, “Make sure your station is wired tight”. In other words, your shit better better be ready for service. If I come to your station and you are in the weeds because you didn’t prep properly, you are in a world of hurt”. Read: Kitchen Organization.
First up, think of your kitchen as your “station”, it’s yours be proud of it. It needs to be clean, and put together in a manageable manner
The Mind of a Chef:
Chefs live and die in the kitchen by lists, checklists, punch lists, and prep lists. Plan, plan, plan, and plan even more.
This is the technical part of getting ready to cook. If you are using recipes (especially for the first time), you WILL read them over and over, from start to finish. This will give you clues as to how you are going to proceed for the time you are spending cooking.
Don’t start cooking until everything is ‘in place’.”- Chef Beth LittleJohn, NC
I know this does not sound fun, but it will make the rest of your time in front of the stove so much easier, and more enjoyable.
While you are reading your recipes you will be looking for terms that will let you develop your roadmap for the kitchen. Sear, saute, braise, sweat, simmer. Words like these will allow you to understand what types of equipment you will need to use.
Sear or Saute? You’re grabbing your saute pans.
Braise? It’s a whole different set of tools.
Simmer? a small sauce pot will probably do.
During the first pass of your recipes you are looking for the different cooking methods you will be using, the tools you will need and the ingredients you will need.
Know where you’re going:
In a busy restaurant kitchen you need, must, know where you are going. If you are crossing the kitchen, you better not be empty handed. A good cook is carrying dirty dishes to the tank, or moving items from one space to another.
In your kitchen, you want to be doing the same thing. Thom Pastor, Chef at healthcarekitchen.com, calls it “economy of movement”. He readily admits he read this in one of Anthony Bourdains’ books, but the sentiment is true.
“Your kitchen should be set up in ways that help you to flow through the process. Set it up to be right-handed or left-handed.”
As you gather your ingredients, and your tools place them where they will be handy. In an organized way. This is where your cute bowls or ingredient containers come in handy.
Chef Beth LittleJohn of The Players Retreat in Raleigh, NC, “For me it’s about organizing your actions and your products… I mean using preparation to perfect timing. Cut everything and separate by the order you put it in the dish. Don’t start cooking until everything is ‘in place’.”
Even though I said this article is not about pretty storage containers, but at this moment it is.
I love having small plastic deli containers, hundreds of them, at my disposal to manage all of my mise en place. For the home kitchen I find the best ones are pint (16oz.) containers with their lids.
As Chef LittleJohn said, now is the time to prep all of your ingredients. Smart Chef, smart.
I instruct all of my students, with few exceptions, to go through all of their mise en place first. Do all of their prep first, at least as much as possible, get organized, then begin cooking.
Cooking with this type of preparation allows you to be more focused, lessen stress, and enjoy the ballet that happens in your kitchen now.
For an in-depth look at how to read a recipe, check out Alton Browns’ post.