mise en place – French
(in a professional kitchen) the preparation of dishes and ingredients before the beginning of service
Before the picnic, there’s the planning and the prep, the gathering, creating and displaying. There’s an entire dance that leads up to the event, an unseen dance that is worth taking a deeper look at.
If you consider it all, sneak a glance into the kitchen or storeroom or vegetable garden, you’ll see the greater art of consideration, community and “chef-ery” at play in the creation of the meal before it is even presented to guests. The French call it mise en place and whether it’s for a picnic, breakfast, lunch or dinner, it reveals several creative, psychological and complex details that you could apply to life away from the knives and forks, mortars and pestles.
Here are five points that stand out to us – as inspired by a backstage peep at our chef team on the island.
1. Honour the process
Just as the ingredients you use took time, care and nourishment to form, grow and flourish before getting to you, as the chef, so the process of turning them into a dish for the diner takes time, care and nourishment. It’s a process. Flavours take time to develop, meat takes time to soften. It’s not simply the final dish that matters, but everything that led to it. Honour the details. They are the key to not only a better dish, but also a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment.
2. Keep your team close
From the gardener and fisherman, to the pastry chef and sous chef, to the waiter and bartender, every woman and man along the chain is essential. When you work as one team, the work is not only easier and more seamless, it also creates that important sense of belonging that is the glue in any community.
3. But don’t neglect your singularity
Chefs are artists. Their minds simply work differently to that of an accountant or athlete. As a chef, acknowledge your need to foster and develop your art: your vision and voice, your style and purpose. It will be the force that pulls and pushes you on your path. If you work from this space, from your heart and soul, from your essence, your heritage, your creations will naturally take on a greater significance and authenticity.
4. Consideration and preparation
In the behind-the-scenes of chef-ery, remember to pause to consider. Consider your teammates, but also the diner. This is likely more than a meal to them. It could be their very first trip to Africa, possibly their only, perhaps their honeymoon. Consider the possibilities – when it feels as though there are none. Consider the potentials – the weather: perhaps cloudy with a chance of elephants? Consideration and preparation are key to the mise en place of the kitchen and of life.
5. Too much of a good thing
Be a little reckless. Don’t be so considerate and prepared that you deny yourself the joy of the ride. Laugh, love and let loose a little. Quite certainly the guest will taste the difference in your food.