Everything in Its Place
By Chef Stephanie Michalak
Being someone who has spent the bulk of her adult life working in kitchens, I can tell you that I am personally much better at and am more passionate about writing, planning, and pricing others’ meals than my own.
At this point, I have recognized that any time I work in an office setting, I typically forget to pack a lunch – my coworkers, both past and present, can easily confirm that. Packing a lunch for myself is a lifestyle that I never adopted because most restaurants and catering events share a “family meal” before or after service. My rationale has always been that I should not bother spending money and time on preparing food that I probably will not even get to consume. (It also can be extremely awkward bringing in Tupperware and placing it in your station’s lowboy cooler or in the walk-in fridge when other food surrounds you perpetually).
However, there is a lot to be said about meal planning, especially when you are working on developing wholesome habits that coincide with a healthier lifestyle. Meal planning and preparing can mean the difference between blissful success and extreme frustration during a dietary shift, especially when you are crunched for time and energy.
Understanding how to organize and execute meals (even partially!) in advance can expedite meal time and ultimately allow for more creativity. In commercial kitchens, most chefs and cooks call any meal preparation, mise en place. This translates to “everything in its place” and is not just talking about the physical onions being sliced for a dish. It is a mentality and way of setting yourself up for success so that in the moment, even when you are twenty tickets deep midday through dinner service and you can still hear the ticket machine clacking away, you will not be worried about whether you actually have everything for this dish or the other seven that you need to plate in the next ten minutes. It streamlines the process and makes you more efficient.
This is obviously pivotal for a restaurant feeding others, but it is a practice that can benefit anyone. Ultimately, home cooking has a different set of needs and overall flow to it than a restaurant. However, by adopting techniques that allow you to plan meals while working within seasonality, budget, and dietary restrictions, any person can minimize their food waste and food cost while maximizing their time and health.
All this and more will be discussed in depth during my Healthy Habits: Meal Planning class in August. Hopefully you will be able to make it!