Awhile back I read Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. One part of his memoir I think about often. He writes: "Mise en place is the religion of all good line cooks."
"As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system," he continues. "The universe is in order when your station is set up the way you like it: you know where to find everything with your eyes closed, everything you need during the course of the shift is at the ready at arm's reach, your defenses are deployed."
He goes on to describe what chefs call the ‘meez’ as "carefully arranged supplies of sea salt, rough-cracked paper, softened butter, cooking oil, wine, back-ups, and so on." Without a well-tended meez, Bourdain warns, you'll soon find yourself spinning in place and calling for backup.
Perhaps I’ve been thinking of this because I’ve been traveling for several weeks now and it’s easy to feel out of sorts. Thankfully a friend introduced me to packing cubes. They make a world of difference as I unpack from one hotel room to another. Honestly, I don’t want to remember the mess that was my suitcase prior to using them! Re-packing isn’t a stressful process. I simply zip up the cubes and put them back in their place in my suitcase. Voila! And, I find joy in nestling them into a drawer or two.
Bourdain learned the hard way that planning is the essential ingredient to any dish. He shared how he envisions the perfect execution of the dish before he even begins. We can learn from that. We may not be line cooks but each day we too can take the time to prepare.
Each day we have a choice. Do we rush in; check email, respond to requests, troll Facebook. Or, do we breathe deep, imagine our day and think about not only WHAT we need to do, but WHO we need to BE today? Do we create an intellectual mise-en-place as it were?
I want to develop the habit of thinking about how to calibrate each day around the important vs the urgent. It’s a challenge worth working toward! Plus, it bakes in reflection into my daily rhythm – which is always a good thing. I want to heed Bourdain's advice: “Do not f--- with a line cook’s ‘meez’!”