We avoid daily potential hurricanes or tsunamis in our restaurants by being well prepared, living and thriving on the quality of our mise en place and ability to adapt. Teaching physical, intellectual and emotional mise en place will help students become organized for any possibility.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Last month, we discussed the three dimensions of mise en place—physical, intellectual and emotional—and their role in helping culinary students become real professionals. This month we will talk about ways to help students learn about mise en place and to encourage them to make mise en place an integral part of their daily lives.
A common way we explain new ideas involves lectures, but how many of us have discussed the history of mise en place, the philosophy behind it, the practical reasons for it, the power of the concept in all professional fields, the chefs’ pride in mise en place, and its importance in all aspects of kitchen and dining room operations?
I rarely observe faculty members providing a historical background or the use of mise en place in other fields. Ironically, recent hurricanes and storms provide great examples of the value of being geared up for the unknown and the physical, emotional and intellectual preparation necessary. Yet we face potential hurricanes or tsunamis in our restaurants very day. We avoid them by being well prepared; we live and thrive on the quality of our mise en place and ability to adapt because we are organized for any possibility. So consider talking about storms and provide some historical background.
Teaching the Concept with Examples
Another effective teaching strategy involves describing the benefits of mise en place and providing examples from our professional lives. When students hear stories about what a difference it made for us in various situations, it encourages them to pay attention to mise en place, and we all recognize that students remember stories better than concepts.
Demonstrating and Role Modeling
A third common and powerful teaching strategy used by chef instructors and most persons who teach professional subjects involves showing students what to do and serving as role models. That means providing a demonstration of a clean and well organized work station, showing the arrangement of ingredients before beginning to work, and noticing excellent work stations.
Some faculty members actually make charts and pictures of a work station and post them in the kitchen classroom. Others review the tasks involved in preparing assigned food items, and explain which ones need to be undertaken first and why. Asking students to prepare mise en place lists—or showing them our lists—also helps them learn what is important. So try consciously pointing out your class begins or before food preparation emotional and intellectual mise en place.
Complimenting students who have clean and well organized work stations helps reinforce the concept. Early in a student’s education, chef instructors who point out an aspect of a work station that can be improved or who review the uniform daily, and comment on unprofessional language establish standards for student to follow. Asking students to explain what their plan for the shift and the sequences they will follow encourages them to see the value of intellectual mise en place. If you cannot do it, then students can be encouraged or required to ask those questions of their cooking partners before they begin. This teaching method relies on consistent comments and reinforcement of professional physical, emotional, intellectual mise en place, and it helps make it a daily habit.
Another way to encourage students to learn both how to prepare mise en place and what to remember in any situation is to encourage them to observe the station set-up of other students as well as the chef instructor. Inviting students to walk around a commercial kitchen or a kitchen lab and comment on ways that students have set up their stations might give them ideas about what is important and how stations should be set up for various cooking preparations. Some faculty members have given students time after set-up to walk around the kitchen, observe and participate in a large group discussion of the set-up of various stations and to do so before preparing the ingredients for cooking.
Alternatively, students can be encouraged to walk around and ask questions of other students about their station set-up and the mental mise en place involved for the specific culinary preparations involved. This strategy forces students to observe and ask questions, which encourages their critical thinking and helps them remember all the aspects of mise en place. So try making them observe mise en place in the kitchen.
You can also make acronyms for mise en place such as More Efficient and Productive or Mistakes Easily Prevented as a way to help students remember the concept and practice it in all aspects of their culinary and student lives. So try inviting them to develop acronyms for mise en place; they might come up with better ones, and just the focus on the terms will help them remember the concept.
Thank you for reading this column on ways to teach physical, intellectual and emotional mise en place and to help students make it part of their daily lives. Next month, we will return to the issue of personal development for us as teachers; the topic will be finding one thing to do differently next year as a teacher.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe, and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.