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  • Writer's pictureGarin Wong

"Mise en Place" in Design

Mise en Place is often heard in the culinary world, usually in culinary schools and commercial kitchens by professionally trained chefs. Simply put, mise en place means “everything in its place.” In the commercial kitchen, this means having all your ingredients prepped and all the tools you’ll need – knives, spoons, pots, pans, etc. – stored in their correct locations. This way, your station is ready to get you through the busy service period without having to leave your station to restock.

Precious minutes are lost, and extra steps are wasted when you need to abandon your station to restock ingredients or search for a clean pan because everything wasn’t in place beforehand.

To the home cooks – which there are many more of recently due to shelter-in-place and work from home policies – this is equivalent to preparing all the ingredients, including pots and pans, prior to turning on the stove. Once you have all your ingredients washed, nicely chopped, sorted in their own bowls, and set next to the stove, you can focus on following the recipe and not worry about walking away from the stove only to come back to burnt garlic, overcooked vegetables, or the pot boiling over. Being organized with everything in its place will help produce a great meal.

For those working in an office, many times after acquiring a desk – whether it’s a new job or that new set up for working from home – the next item you get is a desk organizer. Maybe it’s something small for all of the pens or larger for all of the knickknacks in the drawer, but the organizer is essential. It prevents things from being scattered all over your desktop or having to create that “junk” drawer with the dreaded twisted cords somehow looped into paperclips and dead batteries rolling around underneath. Being organized gives everything a “home” so you can locate it easily when you need it.

So, getting back to mise en place, the same principles of organization apply to foodservice design. When a designer first learns about design, we’re taught to draw up a space and focus on ensuring all of the big things fit (ranges, ovens, hoods, sinks, tables, chairs, etc.). Then, we work with our interior designers or architects to make sure finishes look pretty to the guests (quartz, laminate, and tile colors and patterns, for example). As trained foodservice designers, it’s important that we incorporate the little things that make a space functional by walking through the process and asking ourselves questions like … Did we remember to make space for trash cans at prep stations or pans at cooking stations? What about storage for cutting boards or lids when not in use?

Left: Kitchen renovation demonstrating the concept of mise en place.

Right: Location prior to renovation.

Applying the mise en place concept helps us to design the space in more detail. For example, instead of a 5’ long work table with a 5’ long undershelf, we should allow 12” of space for a trash can that will surely be needed when prepping. Otherwise, there might be a lot of potato peels on the floor!

In New York City, the Department of Health requires lids for all trash cans, regardless of it being tucked under a work table. Many times, I’ve walked into a facility with the trash can in an aisle because the designer forgot about a “home” for the trash can or the “home” was too far away to be useful at the station. Or, in the case of NYC, the overall height was too tall once a lid was added so it no longer fit under the table.

And those trash cans are just in the back of house and affect the culinary staff. Imagine what happens when essential front of house items don’t have a home becoming an annoyance to the customer. Have you ever seen a coffee bar that clearly forgot about a home for the condiments? When you’re rushing to the office and can’t find the skim milk, that’s a problem too.

The best designs will have given a little extra thought to these small but essential things. So, if you’re a foodservice designer, the next time you look at a plan, ask the questions – where do the trash cans live? Where do the clean pot and pans get stored? Is there a place for a bus tub of dirty pans and used utensils so they don’t end up being stacked on top of the counter or on the floor?

Your chef and line workers will be glad these details were remembered in the design.

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