Knowing how to cook is obviously important, and just like every chef and student at the CIA is on the same lifelong journey of culinary learning, you’ll want to review the essential techniques and fundamentals of cooking (start here!).

But past that, the first thing you’ll learn at the CIA or any professional kitchen, is that knowing how to cook means nothing if you don’t have your mise en place.

“Mise en place” is a French culinary term meaning “everything in place.” It is the best way to ensure that your time in the kitchen is stress-free, fun, and fruitful.

In the kitchen, mise en place means that you assemble all of your ingredients, equipment, and even your mind before you start cooking a dish. You keep your workstation organized and tidy, and you are always ready for what comes next.

Let’s walk through the most important preparations for preparing a recipe, and what sort of mise en place you should have ready.

Step 1: Read the recipe. Make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand in the right quantities. If not, determine suitable substitutions, like olive oil instead of canola oil, or dried oregano instead of dried thyme.

Step 2: Preheat the oven if you’re using it, that way it’s ready when you finish with Step 3.

Step 3: Prepare your ingredients. Chop veggies, open the packaging for any meat or proteins, and measure out spices. Combine ingredients when possible to save space (put all of your spices in one bowl, if they go into the pot together, for example). Mise en place doesn’t have to mean measuring out every tablespoon of oil into a bowl, but have measuring spoons ready so you can measure right into the pan.

Step 4: Make a note in the recipe of any tools and equipment you might need to have handy. If you’re pan-frying eggplant and the recipe calls to drain the pieces on a towel-lined plate, make sure that plate is ready before you get busy cooking the eggplant.

Step 5: Use down time to tidy up. If your onions and carrots are cooking for 7 minutes, wash the bowl they were just in and wipe down your cutting board. Cleaning as you go is the easiest way to avoid a pile or dirty dishes later.

Step 6: Serve up that dinner you just nailed because you were so prepared and organized.

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