Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mise En Place – Gesundheit!

Mise En Place by Christopher M
I love cooking shows. Not the shows where they show you how to cook things, but competitive shows such as Top Chef, Chopped and Iron Chef. I love to watch trained chefs running around making good eats from odd ingredients under time limits. For some reason, this is high level entertainment to me.

I learn a lot from these shows. Really, I do. For example, I’ve recently learned the following :

Buddah’s hand – a type of citrus fruit that looks like over processed dreadlocks;

Molecular gastronomy – the use of science in the preparation of food (don’t most fast food chains fall into this category?);

Chiffonade – to slice leafy veggies or herbs into long, thin strings;

Mise en place – French cooking term meaning “everything in place;"

Rocky Mountain oysters – bull’s testicals; I kid you not;

Gastrique - a reduction of vinegar or wine, sugar, and fruit used as a sauce, not  what your tummy feels when you eat too much spicy food.

Rocky Mountain oysters may make you giggle and/or gag, but the real gem here in mise en place. Mise en place is the pre-preparation – the draining, chopping, measuring, even chiffonading, that goes on before the actual cooking begins.

I’m currently in my mise en place phase of writing. That’s the few days to a week before I begin writing on a new novel. Here’s my list of dicing and slicing before I sit down and start at line 1, page 1, chapter 1:

Clean apartment thoroughly – it’s a ritual because it probably won’t be cleaned again beyond a lick and a promise until book is done;

Clean off desk – important to start with a nice tidy surface because I won’t see the top of it again for a long time;

Update web page, calendar, catch up on correspondence – see reason under clean apartment;

Decide on time frame of new book and print out blank calendar page relating to that time period;

Post any research photos on front of desk within my view;

Jot character names and notes (outside of usual series characters) on large white board posted to side of desk, along with any short notes on plots and sub plots;

Update notes and back story on returning characters;

Fill freezer with frozen dinners.

Don’t be too alarmed by the first item. Since I write three books a year, the apartment gets a thorough cleaning every 4 months.

Bad boy celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has called mise en place his religion. For me, it’s more like giving myself a hearty, warm breakfast before setting out on a long journey on a cold day. If everything I need is in its place and all is right with my little world, I am free to throw myself into my writing unencumbered by the daily details of my life, at least for awhile.

And, in case you’re wondering, I do utilize mise en place when I cook. Although, in my kitchen it means piercing the plastic on the frozen dinner before shoving it into the microwave.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
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Vicki Doudera said...

Your pre-writing rituals are terrific! They certainly seem to work, too. Thanks, Sue Ann!

Brenda B. said...

Hello Sue Ann,

As another woman soothed by ritual, I totally get this. You cannot hatch another mystery unless the nest is properly woven with the right twigs, grass and fibers.

Wishing you all the best with this next book.

Brenda B. in Maine

Christa Faust said...

Don't mess with my Meez! I'm a huge believer in Mise En Place too, both for cooking and writing. If something isn't where it needs to be when I reach for it, it breaks my stride, pulls me out of the story. Great post!

Mark said...

Um, could you do a complete cleaning of my place some time? It rarely gets that and I don't even have an excuse of writing 3 books a year.

Keith Raffel said...

Sue Ann, it does seem to work better to use the French phrase "mise en place" which literally means "put in place" rather than the English "staging" or "getting ready"? Sounds so much more sophisticated and even tastier!

Kathleen Ernst said...

You go! Thanks for sharing your rituals--and love the photo at the end.

Alan Orloff said...

I belong to the mise en mess school of writing (and of everything else).

Alice Loweecey said...

Sue I'm right there with you! Now I know an official name for it.

Diana said...

What a great post! I need a mise-en-place ritual for my life... help!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Thanks, folks, for stopping by to my personal cooking tips. And, yes, Keith, the French does make it sound so much more sophisticated.