Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ready, set, go ...

At my current position, I work through a mental checklist each morning when I first walk into the kitchen. It's a routine that's served me well for nearly 40 years in the business.

My checklist is much like the pre-flight checklist that my father worked through each time he climbed in the left seat of the family Cessna 182 when I was a child. Dad wanted to ensure all systems on the aircraft were in good working order.

My mental checklist helps me size-up the day. I check refrigerator temperatures and make sure the resident assigned to breakfast properly cleaned the kitchen. I also take the time to lay tools out and get the kitchen ready for production.

The French call this process mise en place. In addition to organizing my work station (to the left of the range), I set up the cutting board and collect ingredients for the soup, entree and sides for lunch.

Here's the process I used for Wednesday's lunch:
  1. Set the soup pot on the range
  2. Set two saute pans on the range, one for sauteed zucchini and the other for Alfredo
  3. Filled the pasta pot with water for ravioli and set it on the range
  4. Set up the cutting board
  5. Placed onion, carrot, celery, ham, split peas and spices behind the cutting board for the soup
  6. Placed Parmesan cheese, butter, milk, flour and frozen corn on the counter for the sauce
  7. Placed zucchini in the sink to be washed
After I punch in for my shift, I head down to my office (in the basement), put on my chef coat and apron and grab my knives. The last thing I usually do is to bring the protein up from the freezer (or refrigerator if thawed).

While mise en place isn't the most glamorous aspect of the chef's day, it's essential.

"Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints," according to Wikipedia.

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