Mise en Place
How to Get Organized
The best chefs know how to get organized for optimal production and efficiency. Organization begins with a professional attitude, arriving early, being properly attired, and having a properly honed cutlery set. Here are additional tips to help you to be productive.
Start with a Prep List
Professional cooking requires food to be prepped in stages and in batches to various degrees of readiness and then to be finished and assembled to order on the line. All operations should have a checklist to work from so that nothing is forgotten in the prep stage. If the operation you work at doesn’t have a prep sheet make one up yourself. Analyze every menu item and every recipe to determine what can be prepped ahead without the loss of quality. Soups and sauces can usually be prepared ahead of time and held in a holding unit. Steaks and fish can be cut and seasoned but must be cooked to order. Risotto can be par cooked and finished to order
Once you determine what needs to be done you then have to decide how much of each item to prep. By analyzing sales you can see how much was sold on a given day of the week. Even though most restaurants now have sophisticated Point-of-Sale (POS) systems that provide this data, it’s a good idea for every station to have a form that records how much was prepped and how much was used for each shift.
Work Station Organization
Generally you divide your work day into a prep phase and a service phase. Prep work is everything that needs to get done before you can open for service. A prep station set up may be a little less formal than at the actual service time however the organization during prep is just as important as the actual line work. If you’re not organized properly you won’t get your work done in time for service.
Every kitchen station, whether it is a prep station or a line station, should be set so that all tools, equipment and mise en place are within arm’s reach, from left to right and from top to bottom. This will minimize extra steps and make your timing more efficient. Make a checklist of everything you need for your station and do a check off at the beginning of service.
Look at your station for an overall sense of work flow. When setting up your line station, consider which menu items need the most room to execute plan accordingly. Work flow always has its challenges and sometimes obstacles arise where you have to change a set up because of other factors like a new menu item Be prepared to modify the work flow of a station in any way that will allow the best execution.
Many dishes have common ingredients that can be done at one time to achieve better efficiency. Some preps may be common among more than one station. Good communication and teamwork help to streamline kitchen prep for you and your fellow cooks. In some kitchens prep cooks will handle the bulk preparation and then distribute it to the various stations that need it. It is common to do simple tasks like peeling onions or chopping garlic during slow times to stay ahead of the game.
Do Your Prep Work
There is nothing worse than running out of something in the middle of a rush and having to run and prep it while you have ten orders fired. Likewise if you over prep an item you are wasting time and wasting food too. Follow the 125% rule and have enough to cover you in case you get a run on a particular item.
Keep Your Station Organized and Clean
There needs to be a place for everything and labels to match them. If there is not a spot for something, you must find one. Periodically stop to wipe down and re-organize your station. Never work in a cluttered environment as it displays sloppiness and a lack of professionalism. A cluttered station usually leads to poor procedures that produce inferior results and can also be unsanitary. Have a sani-bucket near your station to periodically wipe the station down.
There is never enough space in a professional kitchen so you must get used to working in close quarters. Everyone is vying for space and chefs can get territorial when it comes to their work space. This is where working efficiently and economically will be to a cook’s advantage. Don’t spread out and take over someone else’s space. Always clean up after yourself and don’t leave a trail of leftover equipment or unclean areas after you finish a prep. Make sure you return communal equipment or food items like herbs and spices to their proper location so the next person can easily locate it.
Equipment & Smallwares
A top frustration among foodservice workers is the lack of equipment in a kitchen or the fact that parts are missing or broken. Equipment gets abused and worn out; parts can get damaged or lost. No one can perform up to speed without the proper equipment. The chef and management must invest in the tools that will help their crew work at optimal performance. An instilled sense of responsibility on the part of the whole culinary team will also help to address some of the issues. Cleaning and maintaining the equipment begins with the people who use it on a daily basis. Storing the equipment properly, including parts and attachments, after it is cleaned will help to prolong the life and make work less frustrating because you won’t have to do a scavenger hunt to find something when you need it. Inform the chef when equipment needs repairing or when tools get worn out and need replacing.
Get Used to Improvising
There is never enough time, space, or equipment to do an optimal job. It is important for a cook to understand this and to find the best medium where they can produce a great product given the situation at hand. Improvising happens in multiple ways and must be addressed by thinking on your feet.
A food product is back ordered and you must substitute at the last minute with another ingredient
A sauce breaks or an entrée gets burned and must be either corrected or re-fired
You’ve run out of hot food holding space at a busy event and must use an enclosed cart and a sterno to keep food hot
An oven breaks down in the middle of service and you must consolidate items to a different oven
The dishwasher walks out in the middle of service and the cooks need clean plates for service
Every situation is different and must be addressed with a clear head in a calm and methodical manner. Losing your cool and getting angry will never help the situation but only prolong the problem solved. A professional chef knows to never let last minute hurdles get the best of him or her.