Written by: Virginia Macali
Date: September 2, 2016

Flickr: Christoph G

Flickr: Christoph G

“Summer Reading Lists” appear in magazines, newspapers, and blogs. 

The Washington Post’s beach reads  include fiction, thrillers, and memoirs.  Wired provides a list of books that fall between a beach read and an academic treatise.  Real Simple offers summer reads too. The President’s summer reading list  includes a variety of history and popular literature.

This summer, I didn’t find my favorite books on any of these lists.  While browsing the shelves of new books at the library, one book caught my eye.   Work Clean:  The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind by Dan Charnas.

Instead of reading this on a beach or poolside, I enjoyed it in the air conditioned comfort of my living room and on my shady patio.

Dan Charnas, an award-winning writer took me into a new and unknown world.  This was the world of the chef.  Through interviews with well-known chefs he brought this world to life as he explored how chefs are trained to produce excellence in an environment focused on speed, quality, and service.  Throughout the book, he focuses on the driving force of this excellence.  It is “mise-en-place,” a French phrase translated as “put in place.”

At the most concrete level, mise-en-place guides how the chef’s station is set up.  Utensils, pots, and ingredient are put in place at the work station so they can be used efficiently, with minimum of movement or wasted time or energy.  The work station is kept clean.

At another level, mise-en-place means having all the ingredients prepped and ready. This supports the chef in a busy kitchen by emphasizing planning and preparation.  It can include menu items, steps, and the order of those steps in fine detail.  This level of control helps when it is time to prepare the meals in the chaos of the moment.  The better prepared the chef is, the more he/she can do what needs to be done.

Beyond that, mise-en-place is a mindset.  It’s a creed or philosophy, as well as a system.  It is this system that Charnas translates into usable strategies for settings outside the kitchen like a typical office situation or one’s life.

I also read The Making of a Chef:  Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman.  The author got to know the inside of chef training by taking courses at the Culinary Institute of America.  The training was rigorous and unforgiving.  He chronicles his experience and gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how great chefs are made.

Having never worked in a kitchen or high-pressure, rapid-fire environment, I found these writings very inspiring.  I don’t have an interest in becoming a chef, but now I have a greater appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes when I dine out.

Summer is coming to a close, but I think my next read will be Kitchen Confidential, Devil in the Kitchen, or The Soul of the Chef.

What about you?  What summer reading did you enjoy?

  • SoCal

    You might enjoy our new book, “At Home Abroad: Today’s Expats Tell Their Stories” Good luck to you!

    • Byron Edgington

      I’ll look it up, thanks!