The first step of mise en place is mental preparation. I consider mental mise en place to be any type of planning and preparation before you set foot in the kitchen. Three ways to mentally prepare are to read through your recipes, make a plan, and create an equipment list.
A little disclaimer before I continue; Starting with a clean kitchen is the best way to motivate me to cook. It is very important to my mental preparation. I will go more in depth on this topic in my next blog post about physical preparation. However, I thought it was important to note that starting in a clean space can be the best way to get you in the right mindset to plan and cook.
Read through your recipes.
This may seem very obvious and can be tempting to skip. Read through your recipes from start to finish. I like to read through my recipes once and then read through them again and make notes. A tip I find helpful is to highlight or make note of action words like peel, whisk, roast, sauté, etc… Highlighting these words lets me know what equipment I will need and helps me create my game plan by making key words stand out.
If you are pressed for time and can’t make a full game plan, reading through your recipes is the most helpful thing you can do. At the very least you will see the big picture and have a general idea of what needs to happen.
Make a plan.
This part of the process is ultimately up to you and what works best for how you cook. Two ways that work best for me are creating a timeline and making a to-do list.
An important note to make is that you do not have to make your plan the day you intend to cook. For special occasions, holidays, or dinner parties, making a game plan a day or two beforehand helps you see what can be prepped ahead of time. This will ease the amount of work that needs to be done the day of and help you spend more time with friends and family.
I find this method works best when I am planning a complex meal or a meal for a special occasion. This method can take a little longer to fill out, but allows room for detailed instructions and keeps me on a time schedule.
I have created a timeline worksheet that you can download here. The best way to fill this worksheet out is to pick a time you want to serve the meal and then work backwards from there.
In this example I broke down each recipe into its main tasks. I know that if I want to eat at 6:45, the chicken has to go in the oven no later than 5:45, which means that I need to start prepping it at 5:30 and so on. With this method of planning you can be as specific or as broad as you want for each task. Do what works best for you.
Why I like this method:
- I stay within a time limit
- It is easy to see where there is downtime so I can use that time to clean up
- It helps me serve everything at its correct temperature at the same time
A to-do list is easy to scribble down and allows me to stay on task by using simplified directions. I use this method when I casually cook at home and when I teach cooking classes.
After I read through my recipes I make a list of each main task in the order they need to happen. Under each task I leave room for more specifics. For example:
Rough chop cilantro
Using this method may take a few tries to get everything in the right order. I often find I have to scratch things out and reorder steps. But it is a more casual and less time consuming way to plan.
Why I like this method:
- I can check off steps as I go
- I remember the steps more easily because they are rewritten in simplified terms
- It is easier to read and follow as I cook
Something I find very helpful for both planning methods is to write “clean up” as its own step. It is a helpful reminder to get in the habit of cleaning as you go. As a rule of thumb, I clean up after every task.
Make an equipment list
After making a game plan, you should be familiar enough with each step to know what equipment you will need. I like to make a simple list of all the equipment needed and note what recipe it’s for. I have created an equipment list worksheet you can download here and use at home.
I like creating an equipment list because it helps me use less dishes and stay organized. I look for things that can be used for multiple purposes without having to wash them in between. For example, when I roast veggies, I toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. I can use that same bowl, without washing it, to make a vinaigrette. I already use olive oil, salt and pepper in my vinaigrette, so no harm no foul. This helps me significantly cut down on the amount of dishes I use, making clean up a breeze.
I also like having an equipment list because I know exactly what tools I need for each task and I don’t have to waste time searching my kitchen to find them. It helps keep me organized and efficient.
These three steps helped me become more efficient in the kitchen. Mentally preparing and planning before I cook allows me to enjoy the cooking process. I can focus on making my food as delicious as possible without worrying about what comes next.
I completely understand and recognize that sometimes you just gotta get food on the table. But taking just a couple minutes to sit down, read the recipes and make a plan helps the whole cooking process go so much smoother! Get in the habit of taking time to make a game plan and you will begin to see improvements in how efficiently you cook.
I would love to know what you do to mentally prepare to cook. Leave a comment down below telling me your mental mise en place process.