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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mise en place-- 'put in place'

The other day I posted some of my cooking tips--including things I keep close at hand, pre-chopped veggies, fresh herbs, small bits of frozen things in my fridge-top freezer. I knew there was a word for this and for the life of me I could not remember it! I first ran across the word "mise en place" when reading a book by chef and travel show host Anthony Bourdain. I wish I could remember the title of the book--my memory is so bad sometimes--it might have been Kitchen Confidential or maybe it was The Nasty Bits? I guess I'm leaning toward The Nasty Bits.. Anyhow, I found his book one day at the library, I'm always kind of hovering about in the cookbook area and there is one section of it where I have sometimes found some pretty neat stuff, like The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella. I liked all these books basically because they were full in interesting information and they were written by folks who can actually write.

Both these authors included some things that were a bit less than nice. Bourdain is an edgy guy period--so there are whole portions of his books sometimes that I just kind of page through more quickly, some of the language I ignore--though I will say it is certainly descriptive. Some of it though, I can just hear my boss, Antione saying, "TMI"

Anyhow from Bourdain's books I learned some pretty cool french terms (not nasty ones!)that I have incorporated into my own vocabulary and I just love cool words! I learned debrouillard.

dé•brouil•lard

Pronunciation: (dā brOO-yar'), [key]
—adj., n., pl. -brouil•lardsPronunciation: (-brOO-yar'). [key] French. —adj.
skilled at adapting to any situation; resourceful. —n.
a resourceful person who can act independently or cope with any development.


I have used debrouillard to describe some of the wonderful folks I have known in my life who were so good at what they did that it was almost a spiritual thing. If you needed it done--they would get it done--how? nobody really knows, it was like magic.
(actually I suspect it was more of a combination of know-how, attitude and hard work)

I have made it my goal to be like that. I want to know my job so well that I can cooly get through anything that comes my way quickly, efficiently and with a sort of joy that just comes of just plain being good at what you do and knowing it. Bourdain's book inspired that in me when he talked about some of the guys he worked with in various kitchens. Presently I'd like to be a library debrouillard.

The other word I learned from Bourdain is Mise en place. I love that word!

I worked in a restaurant as a teen, for maybe 5 or 6 years on and off, after I had been there long enough to become a shift manager, I went back to that same restaurant whenever I was between jobs. I was trained to cook and serve and clean and prep there by someone who was 'debrouillard' as Bourdain would put it. She was the manager of what some folks would call a 'greasy spoon' restaurant. Her name was Anne, short for Annabelle. This woman made the homemade soups and the specials that kept this small restaurant crowded more days than not. I learned all sorts of things from her. I learned to prep things ahead and have them near at hand so you wouldn't have to stop in a rush and be chopping or peeling. I learned to use things that some folks wouldn't want to know were in the food-- 'the nasty bits' as Bourdain would say. I loved working there!

At work in the library the other day I found a copy of the new "The Culinary Institute of America Cookbook" dispayed in our New non-fiction area of the popular library. I brought it home--mainly because I was hoping it would have that word in it! So I could remember what the heck it was. I was not disappointed. I opened it up and paged in just a little and right before chapter one there it was. A page titled "Prior to Cooking" and then the word:
Mise en place (Fr.) literally, "put in place," The preparation and assembly of ingredeints, pans, utensils, and plates or serving pieces needed for a particular dish or service period.


I don't know if I will ever get around to using any of the recipes in this book or reading through much of it, but I read through that whole section several times to find out what cool stuff I could use as my 'mise en place' in my kitchen. I found I had already tried or made a practice of most of the tips there, but there were a few ideas that were new to me. I also perused the pantry list that was included and found that my pantry is pretty much well stocked. I liked the grocery shopping tips--

Become familiar with a favorite market or two. Try do all the shopping for staples only once a month or every few weeks, with fresh items purchased as needed.

List some meals you will prepare, in advance. use this to help plan your shopping trips.

Keep a running shopping list in your kitchen, jotting down items when you are low. A list of essential pantry items follows.


I was happy to note that this really is more or less how I shop. I used to always get this sort of 'inadequate feeling' because I could not make an exact one week menu plan and go buy only those ingredients. By the end of the week I would invariably stray from my menu somehow and someone would invariably eat some of the ingredients intended for a meal. I'd end up getting creative and doing something else for dinner.

I thought that was somehow a sign I wasn't organized or disciplined enough--I didn't realize it was actually more of a sign that I was resourceful and creative and maybe a little more brilliant in the kitchen than I had realized. :) (patting self on back)

Anyhow I know now--you need to keep a decent pantry and some good things on hand in the fridge and freezer and then you can 'loosely' plan your meals and use up leftovers by morphing things through the week as I wrote about the other day. Sure make a list of 'some meals' you want to make--but you are not married to the list!

I learned that the 'mise en place' is what makes creative cooking work. Having on hand and near you things that will bring flavor and aroma to a meal--already chopped or peeled or frozen in small containers so you can quickly defrost if need be in the microwave.

I learned that to be debrouillard, you need to prepare your mise en place. After that all you need is a creative spark and experience to teach you how to get it done. Experience comes from practice and as a Mom who has fed and raised four kids to adulthood--I've got a wee bit of that. ;)

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