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Organize Like a Chef This Holiday Season

Cooking goes so much more smoothly when I take the time to prep and set out all my ingredients ahead of time. And it really helps with baking … most of the time, anyway.
Come to think of it, life is basically the same way, isn’t it? When I’ve planned ahead and prepared accordingly, vacations, races and work projects just seem to fall in line.
Trained chefs believe strongly in that school of thought, as it turns out. NPR ran a story earlier this year that really caught my eye, and it was all about how many chefs turn their rather intense organization in the kitchen into a way of life.
It’s called mise-en-place, which is a French phrase that translates as, “put in place,” and it refers to what I mentioned above — pulling out all necessary ingredients and having them ready before beginning to cook. And it’s not just for ingredients — it also refers to anything else you might need, like having knives and cutting boards in an easy to reach place, keeping towels where they make the most sense, and, perhaps even more importantly, it’s about putting those items back in the proper places. Every. Single. Time.
chef for holiday
In the cases of chefs, this has to do with focus and self-discipline, but it’s also very much about efficiency, which is where your holiday cooking extravaganza comes in. If you’re planning to spend hours in the kitchen (and I’m guessing you are), wouldn’t you like to shave off a few minutes here and there without rushing? Of course you would. So, incorporate a few tenants of mise-en-place into your meal prep:

  • Create a list detailing the things you need to do — and the order in which they need to be done — that day. Use the list for grocery shopping as well. Going to two different stores? Make it clear on your list what you intend to buy at each one. You might even want to organize your list by area of the store (or find a shopping list app that does it for you).
  • Once you get ready to cook, set all items you need for a specific dish in one place so you only need to move your hand — no more running back and forth to the fridge. Have your portions ready and put everything in the order you’ll be using it.
  • Clean as you go (and, once things are clean, you guessed it — put them back where they belong).

Now, I’m not suggesting you run your holiday celebration like a boot camp. After all, unless you’re the only one in the kitchen preparing ALL THE THINGS, you really have no choice but to give up a bit of control. But as someone who has created lists and timelines and recipe-specific workstations for the past few Thanksgivings, let me tell you that taking a few cues from the mise-en-place lifestyle, when manageable, is worth considering.
Oh, and have you even considered the applications outside of the kitchen? Think about holiday shopping (your list is made, you plan out where you’re going and what you’re buying there), gift wrapping (oh, what I wouldn’t give for a workstation dedicated to wrapping gifts that’s not my kitchen table or bedroom floor!), getting glammed up for a holiday party … I think it’s going to be a very merry mise-en-place end to the year around here!
Do you plan ahead like this for big holiday meals? All meals? Or is this something you would just never, ever do? If you need help getting organized for the new year, check out FBG’s six tricks for getting organized to get healthy.  —Kristen

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