Teaching new students that mise en place goes beyond a complete ingredient list.
By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
This month’s article covers how to teach your students the how’s and why’s of mise en place.
Let’s first discuss why mise en place is important.
When you cook at home and need something while cooking, you just reach into a drawer, cupboard, or refrigerator and get what’s needed. You don’t worry about having everything ready to go before you start. You just start. In a commercial kitchen, failure to have your mise en place before you begin will lead to many extra steps, extra dishes, delays, and the strong possibility that the product won’t be turned out in time.
I tell my students to imagine they are working at a pizza restaurant and an order comes for a pepperoni pizza. The student would reach into the container of prepared pizza dough balls, roll it, ladle the sauce, place cheese on top, cover with pepperoni, use a pizza peel and put it into the preheated oven, remove it, slice it with a pizza wheel, and finally place it into a folded pizza box. Total start to end time should be about 10 minutes. That’s with mise en place.
Next, I tell my students what the process might look like without mise en place. An order comes in for pizza and the student goes to make the dough. She gets the flour, yeast, water, eggs, salt, etc. and places them in the mixer for about 20 minutes, kneads by hand for a few minutes, lets it rise for an hour or so, punches it down, and then lets it rise again. Then the student sees that she needs to make the sauce, so she opens the cans of tomato sauce and paste, gets the herbs and seasonings, and starts them simmering. With the dough and sauce done, she now has to grate the cheese and slice the pepperoni. She reaches for the pizza peel to find it is in the equipment storage area. She runs back there and retrieves it and puts the pizza on the peel but realizes that she hasn’t preheated the oven. Getting a large oven to 500 degrees could take an hour. She finally gets the pizza in and then when it comes out she has to run back to the same storeroom for the pizza wheel. Shen cuts it and realizes there are no pizza boxes ready to go, so she folds one. Start to finish for one pizza: well over three hours!
I then ask my students if they have ever watched a taco being made at Taco Bell, or a sandwich being made at Subway? I ask how many footsteps the taco or sandwich maker makes? “About two, they start on one side and maybe move a little bit to right or left,” they usually reply. I ask them if all the ingredients, utensils, paper to wrap the food, etc. are all within reach? “Yes, they basically just move their arms,” they say. I let that statement hang in the air for a few minutes, then I say: “So in other words, they have done their mise en place long before you walked in the door!”
Now we come to how to teach mise en place.
You should explain that mise en place is not just having your raw ingredients assembled, cut to size, washed, and ready to go. Mise en place means also having all the equipment (large and small) and all serving trays, plates, bowls, and serving pieces ready. Note many times plates will have to be chilled first (salad or dessert plates) or warmed (entrée plates) and this is also part of the mise en place.
So, for my pizza example:
- Ingredients: Pizza dough, sauce, cheese, pepperoni
- Equipment Large: Pre-heated oven
- Equipment Small: Pizza wheel and pizza peel
- Serving item: Pre-folded pizza box
By the way, the hardest thing to teach your students is the items for serving. Someone will make a beautiful risotto and then at the last minute run around looking for the serving plate. They then put the hot risotto on a cold platter and take time searching for a serving spoon while the risotto quickly becomes cold.
Over the years I have learned three tricks to teach mise en place.
First, I ask students to prepare a mise en place list of all the items they need to bring with them to school each day. I then have them take the list home and check each item off as it’s placed in their backpacks, etc. They are required to return the list with the check marks for homework. If they don’t bring in the list, I have them write another list which includes packing the list.
Second, I give students a recipe and have them list all their mise en place. At first, as you can imagine, they just copy the list of ingredients. I then return the paper and ask them to add the large and small equipment and serving items. Inevitably, when the paper is returned, they have left off something like the serving items and I have them revise their list a third time. They then give it back to me and almost always have forgotten to preheat the oven, grill, or boil water. I then have them get everything in their station and have them prepare their recipe without leaving their station.
Third, I give them an assignment to prepare something simple without a recipe. Let’s say a grilled cheese sandwich, with a sliced pickle, and a sliced piece of fruit. I then tell them to write down a mise en place list. This time I don’t look at it, and when they are done writing I tell them to double and triple check it. When that’s done I ask them to make the assignment without leaving their station. (Nearly everyone forgets the serving plates!)
Of course, you can modify these two techniques to have them work in teams. (Please see these past 50 Minute Classroom articles: Working In Teams Needs to Be Taught and Picking Teams to Teach Students How to Work Together.)
If you really want to take it to the next level, ask your students to write an essay on what they have learned about mise en place that will help them not only in cooking but also in life.
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Antonin Carême Medal.
Side note: CAFÉ Members might also note the latest Journal of Culinary Education Best Practices article by Dr. Nugent on “The Secret Recipe for an Engaged Classroom” begins with discussing the importance of teaching mise en place for you and your classroom. Members can click here to login and read the article.