Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind

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9781623365929: Work Clean: The life-changing power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work, and mind
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The first organizational book inspired by the culinary world, taking mise-en-place outside the kitchen.

Every day, chefs across the globe churn out enormous amounts of high-quality work with efficiency using a system called mise-en-place—a French culinary term that means “putting in place” and signifies an entire lifestyle of readiness and engagement. In Work Clean, Dan Charnas reveals how to apply mise-en-place outside the kitchen, in any kind of work.

Culled from dozens of interviews with culinary professionals and executives, including world-renowned chefs like Thomas Keller and Alfred Portale, this essential guide offers a simple system to focus your actions and accomplish your work. Charnas spells out the 10 major principles of mise-en-place for chefs and non chefs alike: (1) planning is prime; (2) arranging spaces and perfecting movements; (3) cleaning as you go; (4) making first moves; (5) finishing actions; (6) slowing down to speed up; (7) call and callback; (8) open ears and eyes; (9) inspect and correct; (10) total utilization.

This journey into the world of chefs and cooks shows you how each principle works in the kitchen, office, home, and virtually any other setting.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Dan Charnas is an award-winning culture, lifestyle, and business writer. Recipient of the 2007 Pulitzer Fellowship for Arts Journalism, his first book, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, was called “a classic of music-business dirt digging as well as a kind of pulp epic” by Rolling Stone. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

FOCUS

How mise-en-place works

CHEF DWAYNE LIPUMA'S entire kitchen staff just quit. He's looking at reservations for 40 people for lunch, then another 140 for a banquet tomorrow. To make all those meals, LiPuma's bosses have provided him with 19 recruits, some of whom have never cooked in a fine-dining restaurant. Aside from LiPuma's assistant and a pastry chef, not one of the staff has ever seen the menu, much less prepared the items on it, all gourmet dishes with elaborate presentations.

But by the end of the day, the diners will leave satisfied. In fact, the customers--some of whom have waited months for a reservation at LiPuma's restaurant, American Bounty--will scarcely notice that their entire meal was made by neophyte cooks.

A miracle perhaps? Nope. It's a regular day for Chef LiPuma. In 3 weeks, when LiPuma has his crew trained and confident, they will leave and a new group of inexperienced cooks will replace them. He will repeat this process every 3 weeks, thus providing the penultimate course for students who will soon graduate from the Culinary Institute of America.

What makes this impossible rhythm possible is not a miracle. It's a system called mise-en-place.

LEARNING TO COOK, LEARNING TO WORK

The Culinary Institute of America, called the CIA without irony by people who think more about the epicurean than they do espionage, sits like a citadel on the banks of the Hudson River almost 100 miles north of New York City. Its grand campus in Hyde Park, New York, centered around a former seminary--housing an average of 2,400 students, 140 full-time faculty, 49 kitchens, and four student-staffed restaurants--the CIA is among the world's most renowned culinary schools, with branches in Texas, northern California, and Singapore.

From the first day of classes to the last, CIA students will hear the term mise-en-place, pronounced like "me's on plahhs." It's on the lips of Tim Ryan, the president of the college, as he greets new enrollees. A few of the students may have heard the term before they arrived, perhaps in a kitchen for which they worked during high school or thereafter. Some will refer to their textbook, The Professional Chef, which provides the English translation of the term, "put in place," and a definition: "the preparation and assembly of ingredients, pans, utensils, and plates or serving pieces needed for a particular dish or service period." At first, mise-en-place blends into the dozens of French words and phrases they must remember as they make their way through their introductory class, Culinary Fundamentals, like mirepoix, brunoise, tourner, arroser, fond de veau, roux, consommé. But as students learn the basic techniques they'll need to succeed in all the courses that follow--knife cuts, making stock, making sauce, cooking vegetables and meat--they learn that mise-en-place encompasses an entirely different set of vital skills, and that putting their ingredients and tools in place is just the first level of a deceptively simple concept that keeps unfolding.

Instructors invoke mise-en-place when they tell students to keep their cutting boards and workstations clean and when they tell them to arrange their tools in a certain order and return them to that order after they use them; when they move too slow and also when they move too fast; when they move too much and when they move too little; when they start tasks too early and when they finish them too late; when they talk too much and when they don't say enough; when they don't use their five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, sound; and when they fail to use their sixth sense: common. As the days go by, the chef-instructors begin to talk about a deeper notion: mental mise-en-place, the idea that students can't master physical organization without first organizing their minds. It starts with the CIA timeline, a paper form that chefs expect students to use every day and master. In preparation for each class, students must list their needed tools, ingredients, and tasks for the day. They must arrange those tasks in time, plotting precisely when each thing is supposed to happen. When students find themselves running behind in class or skipping steps, the chefs refer to the student's timeline; usually the chefs can point to the error in thinking that resulted in the error in behavior. Students commit these timelines to memory. Then they begin to tackle planning on-the-fly, the mental work that allows them to move smoothly from one task to the next. Over time, mise-en-place begins to reveal itself as a set of values: Apprenticing oneself. Getting to class early, not just on time. Working with intensity. Cultivating a sense of urgency. Remaining alert. Aiming for perfection.

This idea of mise-en-place, a curriculum unto itself, begins to migrate outside the kitchen. Students load their backpacks and lay their clothes out at night before bed, iron their chef's whites and shine their shoes. They use timelines and prep lists to study for their academic courses, not just their cooking classes. They organize their desks, their closets, their rooms. They even begin "mise-en-placing" their social activities to maximize their time off.

Then the students go home for their first holiday and wonder how the rest of the world changed so much since they were last in it.

Maybe, like Alexandra Tibbats, they watch their parents scurry around the house for car keys that should, of course, have been put back where they belonged, or wait hours for high school friends who can't seem to show up on time. Or maybe they're like Kaitlin Ngo, whose mother watches in stunned silence as Kaitlin--for whom the opening of a suitcase had always been comparable to the uncorking of a geyser--now demurs on a quick shopping excursion to stay home and methodically unpack.

The students return to the CIA and learn to cook à la carte breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for their classmates. At the end of their first year, they go on their "externship"--18 weeks working in a restaurant in the real world. Some will cook; others will do the kinds of jobs that kitchen trainees are expected to do: working in the prep kitchen, cutting vegetables and cleaning. They will marvel at how fast and smooth everyone around them seems to move, confirming how much they still don't know. As their second year draws to a close, they will be assigned to one of the CIA's four first-class restaurants, and the training wheels come off. Some of them will enter the kitchen of American Bounty and be greeted by a smiling Chef Dwayne LiPuma.

But LiPuma is not here to assess their cooking skills because they've learned and been evaluated on all their techniques already. What LiPuma will be teaching and testing here is their physical, mental, and ethical mise-en-place, without which they will never be able to use any of those techniques in a professional setting.

WELCOME TO AMERICAN BOUNTY

Nineteen students dressed in clean chef whites gather in a wood-paneled private dining room next to the lobby-bar of American Bounty. It's 7:45 a.m. when Chef Dwayne LiPuma walks in for the first day of class. For the next 75 minutes he'll lecture them on the daily work schedule and the rules of the kitchen, review the menu dish-by-dish, and describe how he'll grade them. LiPuma is 5 feet 6 inches of compacted power, with spiky brown hair and metal-rimmed glasses. He talks fast, very fast, Martin Scorcese-on-a- double-espresso fast.

"Welcome to American Bounty," he says. "We are going into the whirlwind. Your anxiety level is off the chart. Everybody's except for mine."

LiPuma is calm because he has his own mise-en-place. He's done everything he can to ensure the success of his new charges. He ordered the previous class to prepare a few days' worth of ingredients so the new class won't have to do any physical mise-en-place except for arranging those ingredients. LiPuma tells them they can ease their fears by getting the lay of the land--a "plan" in the literal sense of the term, the French word for "map." Make a mental diagram of where everything is and should be. Know the recipes. And come to class every day with your timeline. "No timeline means 20 percent off your daily grade," he warns. He knows that when they get into the professional world, these students won't write timelines. Instead they'll internalize them.

"I'm not going to teach you how to cut a carrot," he tells them. "I'm going to teach you how to organize yourself."

It's one thing to apply cooking techniques to a recipe and construct a plate. It is quite another thing to do that a dozen times with speed and consistency. LiPuma argues that organization is going to deliver the speed they'll need. Speed will come from their brain's basal ganglia memorizing repeated muscle movements, which--if they are to be quick--should be as small as possible. They will gain some of that speed by selecting their tools with care. "What kind of ladle do you need for the soup?" LiPuma asks. "An 8-ounce ladle. Why? Because that's the portion size." If students have a 2-ounce ladle, they will have to ladle four times instead of one. They will win additional speed by arranging their tools. "I should be able to blindfold you," the chef says, "and when I say, 'Pick up your tongs,' you know that they're always right there, that your ladle is right there, that your oil is right here." They will accrue even more speed by properly arranging their ingredients. LiPuma wants all their ingredients "zoned out": all the ingredients for one dish in one area. "The less your hand moves, the more efficient you are."

"You'll see," he continues. "By being organized, you will be more efficient. By being more efficient, you will have more time in your day. By having more time in your day, you will be more relaxed in your day; you will be able to accomplish the task at hand in a clear, concise, fluid motion." LiPuma promises them that by the time they leave his kitchen, they'll be smooth and calm, like him.

"Like oil on glass," he says.

DAY ONE

The students enter the kitchen at 9:00 a.m. They have 1 hour to produce "demo plates"--one sample dish of every menu item on their station. Each student is responsible for two or three menu items. On tougher stations students work in pairs. The demo plates give them a chance to practice before service and give LiPuma a peek at their skills: Can they actually do the cooking?

At 10:00 a.m., once their demos are done, they take a break for "family meal," prepared by a team of three students. Chef LiPuma kicks everyone out of the kitchen and doesn't let them back in until 11:00 a.m. "They need to decompress," LiPuma says. "They get so stressed out. And sometimes when you leave the scenario that's stressing you out--Oh, God! I've got all this work!--and you step back, eat something, rethink it, and revisit it, it's not so stressful. Plus, they need to eat, period. Because they'll skip eating, leave here, and they'll have nowhere to eat until dinner."

But while his students decompress in the dining room, LiPuma compresses their time in the kitchen. He doesn't want them to work through lunch and thus encourage a lazy pace. With cuisine as it is with culinary students, no transformation happens without heat. LiPuma needs to cook his class, too.

While they're eating, LiPuma and his sous-chefs-in-training straighten students' mise-en-place, writing reminders on the stainless steel tables with a black-ink Sharpie: "Your chervil is brown," "Paper towel under parsley," "Brush with olive oil." At 11:00 a.m. the students return. They have 45 minutes before the first lunch orders start coming in.

All morning, as the students work, Chef LiPuma prowls the "line"--the row of ovens, burners, and grills where most of his cooks stand and most of the kitchen's food gets prepared.

Some students use the wrong tools for the job: Zoe tries to cook potato pancakes in pans that are too big and use too much oil. Alex puts the butternut squash soup in a pot that's too small. "It's gonna burn," LiPuma says. Later Alex blots extra-virgin olive oil onto bruschetta with a paper towel. "Don't do that!" LiPuma moans. "Get a brush." Caitlyn discovers that the smashed potatoes left for her by the previous class have been put in a narrow, plastic quart container and have thus disintegrated under their own weight. "Why don't you make a necklace out of them?" LiPuma says. Caitlyn cooks replacement potatoes and puts them back in the same container, repeating the failure.

Other students don't check the ingredients prepared for them by the previous class: Rahmie places his own bruschetta in the oven to toast without noticing that there's no olive oil on them at all. "It doesn't matter that this is what they left you," Chef says. "You gotta make it right!"

With first day jitters, many students move too fast. "Juan!" Chef LiPuma says, seeing four cuts of steak on the grill. "What are you cooking all that beef for? When are you supposed to mark off that meat?"--meaning sear it so it acquires a nice crust and grill marks on the exterior before cooking to a finish in the oven. "When I come back from family meal," Juan replies. LiPuma nods: "So finish marking one. Easy there, Slick." When Juan and the others return from family meal, they continue to rush and confuse the proper order of things. They begin cooking side dishes well before the proteins are ready. "This is à la carte cooking, guys," LiPuma booms over the class PA system. "You cook your vegetables and starches on pickup," not when food is ordered. In other words, proteins get the heat when the order comes in, and when the chefs later call for pickup, that's when they heat the starches and vegetables, as they take less time. They remove meat from the oven when it's still raw. "Don't take anything out of the oven until you clear it with me first," LiPuma orders. The students bring warm plates down from the heat lamps well before their dishes are ready, letting them get cold. "If somebody plates on a cold plate again, zero for the day!" LiPuma bellows. "Are we clear?" "Yes, Chef!" the crew shouts.

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