Kitchen Voyeur Season 2: Whole Cooking With Evan Hendrix.
Episode 1 - Mise En Place
Clear Your Path. Remove Obstacles. (Or Why the French Actually Enjoy Cooking and Life in General)
Meet Evan—your guide to whole cooking.
Last fall, Evan opened up a world of possibility for me when I stood, slack-jawed, in his kitchen watching him break down a whole chicken, as easy as 1,2,3, and then proceed to build a hearty chicken soup by methodically layering and concentrating flavor and diversifying his salt sources with ingredients like fish sauce.
People gotta know this stuff, I thought. And so a partnership was born.
Evan has a passion for food and food values that he's gleaned from 6 years as a department manager at Whole Foods Market and from teaching men to cook and hosting countless community dinners at his house (and from watching way too much Food Network).
In today's episode we cover the French paradigm of Mise En Place, "putting in place". It's a whole philosophy of life really, but in the kitchen it means not only putting everything you need within arms reach, but also getting everything you DON'T need out of your line of sight!
Mise En Place means clearing your path, removing obstacles, and setting yourself up for success. Which means setting yourself up to actually enjoy cooking.
Think about it. Nobody wants to cook if they're not ready to cook, or if the space—the canvas for cooking—is full of unopened mail or sticky splotches and boxes from the last meal.
Read the recipe all the way through ahead of time.
- Visualize what you intend to do and walk yourself through the steps. Do I need to turn the oven on first? Do I need to have something thawed already? You might want to do this the day before, to make sure you actually have everything. There's nothing worse than getting knee-deep into a project and then—crash, bang, boom—you have to flee the scene as if your hair were on fire to make an emergency trip to the grocery store.
Create an atmosphere you actually want to cook in.
- Clear your path. Remove obstacles. Put some music on. Adjust the lights. Throw open a window. Do what inspires you. Heck, sing if you have to (the echo won't be as good as it is in the shower, but so what?). It's your space. Own it.
Lay out ALL your ingredients within arms reach.
Avoid the habit of making yourself dance and spin and hunt and grunt for things. That's exhausting and nerve-wracking. Economy of movement will make you feel like the conductor of an orchestra instead of a fireman at a 3-alarm fire.
Prep only what you need to prep. If the recipe requires speed and timing, like a stir fry, then by all means pre-chop and pre-cut everything. But if you're making a leisurely braise, just lay your stuff out and start zen-chopping as you go, layering flavor after fragrant flavor into your bubbling and frizzling pot.
- Here's where you have to get over yourself a little. You're not the lonely unsung hero, slaving away in the hinterlands of a sweaty kitchen for next month's rent. In other words, you're not a professional. You're an amateur. Thank God! And you're at home. Which means you are smack dab in the middle of one of the most important and unifying projects you can do for yourself and your family: making a sit down meal. Get help. If you're organized, it won't feel like your helpers are getting in your hair. You'll be calm enough to tell people what to do. And because it's all laid out in front of them, they can't make lame excuses like, "but I don't know where you keep the ____ (fill in the blank)."
Enjoy yourself. Take advantage of the Zen.
- As Michael Pollan points out, there’s a side benefit to preparing vegetables. It's kind of a Zen thing. "When peeling carrots, just peel carrots." You can use the mundane aspects of food preparation to heal yourself. Not only will you be less likely to cut your finger when your mind is quiet, but you will be able to shut down your entire fight or flight response, and get some good parasympathetic tone going so you can digest your food...and do a few other things: feed, breed, rest, digest, and repair. That's the Parasympathetic Nervous System Response. Yes, please.
Now, you're ready to cook.
Photo Credit: Everything Ready by Don LaVange on Flickr