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Mis en Place: The Start to an Easy Meal

Cooking with Master ChefsIn COOKING WITH MASTER CHEFS, Julia Child visits sixteen nationally acclaimed master chefs in their own kitchens. Each chef demonstrates distinct techniques, regional recipes, and culinary tips which guide home cooks through their favorite recipes. Expertly preparing each dish and teaching with passion along the way, the master chefs offer the viewer a unique and inspirational learning experience.


Ever wonder how professional chefs seem to whip up in minutes what would take you hours to prepare at home? Really, it’s not magic–just good planning and organization. Oh, and not to mention the help of the low man on the culinary totem pole: the prep cook. This human food processor supplies the chef with prechopped and peeled vegetables, marinated meats, and prepared stocks–collectively known as “mis en place”–so that recipes can be assembled quickly and easily. Well, at home, the chef is the sous chef is the prep cook, so it’s best to get organized and then start chopping.

  • Have storage containers and space available in the fridge. Mis en place counts on getting work done in advance, so proper storage is necessary to ensure quality results.
  • Break down your menu. Instead of approaching tasks one recipe at a time, look for similarities in ingredients and techniques and group these together. You’ll save some tears if you hit all your onions at once, rather than chopping for each individual recipe.
  • Follow a schedule. Take advantage of things that can be done days, hours, and minutes ahead of time. Many contemporary recipes call out “do ahead” possibilities, from chopping vegetables to mixing dough to composing fillings; make full use of these timely tasks. Especially when entertaining, do whatever you can to prepare items before guests arrive, so that you aren’t rushing around as they ring the doorbell.
  • Stock your ice box. When you make or buy vegetable, chicken, or beef stocks, pour into ice trays and freeze in cubes. Next time you’re ready to make a quick sauce, just pop one or two into a pan and get started.
  • Peel, slice, dice, and store. When you get home from the market, prep vegetables into shapes and cuts that will limit your work later on. Hearty vegetables such as carrots, celery, and pepper will hold up in airtight storage for a day or two without remarkable flavor changes.
  • Wash and wrap greens and herbs. Rinse salad greens and herbs in cold water and shake dry, then wrap them in a paper towel and store in an airtight container. They’ll be ready and waiting when you need them later.
  • Mince fresh herbs the day of your dinner. Hearty herbs like rosemary, oregano, and thyme should hold up for a few days under proper storage, but make sure to chop parsley, cilantro, and more delicate greens just a few hours before you need them or they may get soggy.
  • Toast nuts before storing. While salads and pastries often call for toasted nuts, they usually need them to be cooled to room temperature before using. Get this out of the way when you bring them home, and then add them to recipes as needed.
  • Grate and crumble cheeses. Sticky cheese can make quite a mess during prep time. Get this task out of the way by grating onto parchment paper and storing in the fridge until you’re ready to cook. However, when accenting a dish with a fresh grate of expensive cheese, save it until just before serving to get maximum impact in each bite.
  • Take advantage of time. Remember, the flavors of some food actually improve when left on their own for a few hours. Braised meats, soups, sauces, and spreads can usually be prepared anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in advance–they’ll only benefit.