Sunday, February 27, 2011

Confessions About My Mise en Place

I can dream, can't I?

One of my favorite new TV shows is Worst Cooks in America on the Food Network. If you didn’t think you were a decent cook, watch this show and re-think your skill-sets. Until this show, I never realized that a grown woman wouldn’t know that you have to put oil in a skillet to fry chicken.

One of the first things the novices need to learn about is Mise en Place (MEEZ-ahn-plahs) which, when translated from the French Culinary schools, simply means, "Everything in its place," but it’s actually more like the Boy Scouts of America motto, "Always be Prepared," because it isn't just about where to store the cutlery and putting your spices in alphabetical order, it's making sure every ingredient in a recipe is measured accurately and all pots, pans,  stoves and ovens are ready to go before you're ready to cook.

After a disastrous attempt at making a lemon meringue pie in college where I suddenly realized mid-way through the recipe that I had no confectioner's sugar and had to sprint up the street to the local convenience store while convincing my roommate to, "just keep stirring," the molten filling, my mise en place in the kitchen is always spot on. You won't catch me without an ingredient, hunting down the mandoline, or facing whole onions needing to be diced at the last minute. I'd like to thank my Mom for her obsessive viewing of Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and Graham Kerr for all of the kitchen lessons I learned growing up.

Triathletes are well-known for their organizational skills. With such a time-consuming profession/hobby/obsession, it's important to have everything in its place to avoid losing training time looking for equipment. There are many coaches that tell you to fix your post-workout meal before you head off to your training session so when you return home, you don't run into the kitchen, carb-empty and dropping blood sugar, and just grab the first thing you see on a shelf or in the fridge and inhale it.

I don't have such a coach. I only have the experience of a bad lemon meringue pie and a year on the grill at a sub shop to remind me that things such as mise en place are drilled into chefs for a reason: bad things happen when you don't plan ahead.

So when I spend 15 minutes walking around my apartment searching for a hat that I left in the car or go looking for my ID that's buried in one of those gym bags in the corner and put on three layers of clothing before realizing my heart rate monitor is still on the dresser, I think about needing a better plan. Perhaps it is only natural that when I finally finish my workout, get home and I realize that I have no post-workout meal planned and I inhale the first thing that I see on the shelf (who bought those cheesy poofs??) that I understand that I have to start organizing things more diligently or bad things are going to keep happening.

Abysmal mise en place is the reason I forget my water bottles on the counter before I drive 10 miles to the start of my bike ride... and the reason I don't even realize it until a mile into the ride. Reaching down to an empty water bottle cage for a drink is no fun.That mistake led me to stop at a snack stand at the beach on a 90 degree day. I dropped two sweaty bucks for a cone of shaved ice... lemon flavored, of course.

So perhaps this post will help people understand why I became concerned about my training routine 9 months prior to the Hotter n' Hell Hundred. There are too many aspects to this that can't wait to be addressed in June or July (or August!). There are too many bad things that can happen if I don't get my routine together as soon as possible.

 I would've explained this to them in person but I can't find my cell phone to call them.


  1. Been there, done that on leaving a water bottle at home. However, I discovered my missing bottle when I inhaled a bug and was going to gargle.

    I too have to think ahead on HHH. Can't go through the after-ride cramps of last year.

    I have been able to put in over 90 miles this past week. Going to try to get in more this week. How's your weather?

  2. @Roy and Christine - Cramps can be caused by so many things - it'll definitely serve you well to figure this out sooner than later.

    Our weather... went from teens last week to snow over the weekend to a sleet this AM and now we've got rain at a scorching 50 degrees.
    I'd send some rain your way if I could. It must be a bit unnerving to see fires so early in the season.