The Reluctant Cook: Lay Out Your Ingredients for Kitchen Success

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I get the opportunity to watch a chef cook on a regular basis. My husband has a large library of cookbooks and loves to be inspired. But when he’s in the kitchen, I’ve noticed he cooks without recipes and isn’t hunkered over a cookbook, leaving flour or sticky crap on the pages. He adds a little dash of this and a pinch of that, throws it all together and, voilà, he’s created a culinary masterpiece.

Mise en place
Image: Mise en place photo via Shutterstock

When we’re in the kitchen together and I’m the sous chef, he gives directions using verbiage that stops me in my tracks, “add a dash, pinch, drizzle, smidgen, drop, give just a tad, and top it with a dollop.” STRESSSSSSSS.

I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, create-as-you-go kind of cook. I’m more like the TV hosts on the morning news show. I like to have all of the ingredients measured and put in clear glass mini bowls, ready to dump in the pot. While we’re at it, I prefer my recipe to have colorful pictures along with easy directions.

Advanced Preparation

I was glad to hear my organizational tendencies were not on the OCD spectrum but is actually a formal technique: mise en place. The term translates from French as “put in place.” It calls for all of the ingredients to be washed, cut, measured, and placed around the food preparation area, along with necessary tools and condiments, before any cooking starts. And I suppose the more ingredients and complicated the dish, the more important it is to use mise en place.

Julia Child once said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces--just good food from fresh ingredients.” That is so true, sister. And from what I remember watching her on TV, she was a master at mise en place!


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