COOKING AS A DISCIPLINE
Discipline is defined as an activity, exercise or a regimen that develops or improves a skill or training. I believe cooking can be a discipline for life, not only as a dietary regimen but as a work ethic, principle and guide for almost everything we do in our hectic lives. Let me explain. It all starts with the basic ingredients a cook uses in his everyday dishes known as the mise en place.
Mise en place refers to the French term for the organizing and arranging of ingredients – a place for everything and everything in its place. As a cook is working the line he will utilize a plethora of components, raw and cooked, to cook, garnish and finish a dish. Vegetables, Meats, Poultry and Garnishes are all at hands length to facilitate the process.
Here is where I believe we can take a life’s lesson. It is in this discipline that a cook’s creativity and learned skills can really shine, depending on how the mise en place has been laid out is how the flow of product to the guest will run.
Take one of my favorite dishes to eat, entertain with and prepare – Paella. The fusion of rice, chorizo, seafood and vegetables flavored with saffron and other herbs and spices. The rice can take up to 30 minutes to cook, the seafood literally minutes, the chorizo cooked until it renders some of the delicious paprika flavored oils. If when you ordered the Paella and the cook was to begin to prepare it the wait time can easily be over an hour, if you add in other diner’s orders and the side dishes and desserts that accompany these meals well as you can probably imagine nobody would get to eat or be a happy diner.
Any good cook knows that his mise en place is not only the specific elements that make a dish but the uniform cutting, dicing, slicing and mincing to ensure even cooking. It is also in having all the components that make up a dish come to temperature and correct cooking doneness in order to plate said dish. It is about working as a team so that everything flows in a demanding, overheated environment. Is the inventory enough? Do you have enough of your components to last a turnover? (Restaurant speak for a how many times a table is served in a night).
Can you see how the pressures of working the line can synthesize into our daily lives? Do we have everything we need to go about a day? Have we prepared our mise en place for our lives?
Walk into any professional kitchen and you will find people from all walks of life and with such a diverse background that you will be amazed and astonished. Everybody knows about the heavily tattooed, bad boy image or of the megalomaniac chef barking orders and reducing men to tears. But, today’s modern kitchen has Doctors, Lawyers, Bohemians, and everything in between working the line and making the mise en place part of their everyday life. Granted some are looking for a creative outlet, but most have found a discipline in the art of cooking that they have not been able to find anywhere else.
I can personally tell you the lessons I have learned from the kitchen have been more than valuable in every aspect of my life. From learning to dice, slice and chop in order to expedite my mise en place to the patience of “hurry up and wait” of sautéing an ingredient to perfection the lessons were taken to heart. In the kitchen we can learn a lesson at every turn, from the ingredients themselves –where they came from, the nutritional values – to the preparation and then to a garnished plate but also in how to be efficient, work under stress and being a team player.
As in life everything can be a learning experience for me the mise en place has been a great foundation in life and I have been able to apply it to other aspects as well. It has made me look at what the final product will be and what do I need in order to get there and the fortitude to get it to the plate on time.
Maybe I can be the next motivational speaker hitting the circuit and hawking my book “MISE EN PLACE, It’s what your life needs!” Maybe I’ll make it out of edible paper.
John Capellan is the owner of www.sugarsaltlime.com a company devoted to bringing “Products for a gourmet lifestyle” to the masses as well as co-owner of www.tisojewelrydesigns.com “Enhancing your inner Beauty” has owned managed and consulted for Retail, Customer Service and the Restaurant Industry. Has a passion for cooking, the business world and entertaining for family and friends.