Kitchen Organization Part 2: Kitchen Etiquette & Mise En Place

Today we will discuss the last two essential elements of kitchen organization, proper etiquette (yes Miss Manners!) and the concept of “mise en place.” (Bless you.) 


Although not as critical to an organized food prep environment as sanitation and storage, being efficient and organized in the kitchen is an excellent life skill to have, and also necessary for successful meal prep. In other words, being organized and clean are the secrets to taking the tedium out of the meal prep equation. 


Ready to get started? Let’s begin…


Lesson 3: Proper Kitchen Etiquette


As I type this, I can’t help but think of this section as almost like a “Ten Commandments of the Kitchen” so please humor me and go along with my cheesiness. 


The “Ten Commandments of Kitchen Etiquette” are as follows:


1.    Thou shall wash thy hands constantly. Need I say more here? Okay. WASH. YOUR. HANDS. Before you start. Before you handle raw meat. After you handle raw meat. After you get done with a task. Before and after cleanup. Wash your hands. You will cut your risk of foodborne illness and cross contamination by at least half. I promise. Just do it. And make sure you are frequently changing out your kitchen towel. 


2.    Thou shall clean as thou goes– Yes. Clean your work area too. And wash your produce before you start doing anything with it. Wipe down the counter space you will be using with hot water and a cleaning-solution before you start any food-related projects and wipe it down when you are done. Load equipment you are finished with into the dishwasher or take a break in the middle of your work to do ten minutes worth dishes. Put things away when you are finished using them. This might sound like a lot but believe me it takes far less time than you’d waste trying to make space in the middle of a task, or at the end when it looks like a bomb went off in your kitchen. Clean as you go. 


3.    Thou shall respect thy knife– I will go far more in-depth with knife care and handling at another time, but just please, remember the most important rules: 


a.    Always use a clean, sharp knife

b.    Do not, I repeat, DO NOT place a dirty knife in a sink filled with water or other dishes. Either set it in the other sink basin on its own, or better yet, immediately wash it by hand, dry it, and put it away (or continue using it.) 

c.    Do not put a Chef’s knife, or any knife you actually cut things with in the dishwasher. Wash your knives by hand with hot water, dish soap, and a sponge brush. Save your knives. Treat them with respect and they’ll treat you with respect. (I’ll make an exception for steak knives here, but you’re really better off washing those by hand too.) 

d.    Do not store knives loose in a drawer. Invest in a magnet knife rack, or one of those in-drawer knife storage dividers. (Look for one at Target, The Container Store, etc.) I’m really not a fan of the traditional wooden knife blocks, either, as I feel like they can become a breeding ground for bacteria, but even one of those is better than nothing. 

e.    Invest in a small knife sharpener. Sharpen your knives periodically, rinse when finished to wash off any metal shavings (they do happen,) and dry before using or storing. Be good to your knives and they will be good to you. 


4.    Thou shall turn pot handles in when they are being used on the stove– Prevent a pot of boiling water from being knocked onto your child’s, or anyone’s, head. Turn the handles of your pots in so that they point to the back of the stove. Seriously. Just do it.


5.    Thou shall use a different cutting board for meats and produce– Invest in a second cutting board if you haven’t already. Please, please, please do not use those nasty cheap glass ones. A nice hard plastic cutting board is a great every day, easy to clean option, so long as you toss it if you start seeing grooves or deep scratches on the board. Fortunately, they are very inexpensive, so replacing one shouldn’t hurt too much. Wooden cutting boards are nice too, but they require much more maintenance and are usually a lot more expensive. I like to use mine for breads and cheese, things I don’t need to “chop.” So pick your poison, but just remember to keep one for meats and one for produce and other food items. 


6.    Thou shall temp thy meats– Want to know when your chicken is fully cooked? Check its temperature. Seriously. I’m sure some will argue about “losing the juice” and yada yada, but for real, if you want to know when meat is cooked, the best way to do it is to temp it. Invest in a digital meat thermometer, they aren’t that expensive, and use it in the deepest part of the meat. Between the thigh and breast of a whole chicken. In the thickest part of a pork chop or steak. You get the picture. You don’t need to gouge it, just go about halfway down, let it sit for a minute, and check the temperature. Then pull out the thermometer, wash it (by hand!) and go about your day. No more risk of raw chicken. Easy. (At the bottom, I’ve included a reference sheet printout for internal temperatures of meats. Stick it on your fridge.)


7.    Thou shall know (or ask) if anyone has an allergy– Another great way to avoid making someone sick? Knowing, or finding out, if they are allergic to something. In a standard kitchen, it will be much harder to prevent or avoid cross-contamination, so it’s a good idea to know in advance if this is something you have to work around. (We’ll cover this more in-depth at a later time.) 


8.    Thou shall abide by storage temperature and time guidelines– Okay, I know we covered this already, but it’s so important. Please familiarize yourself with proper storage, handling, and serving temperature for food. Save yourself and your loved ones from food poisoning. I’ve included the chart at the bottom of this post, again, for reference. If all else fails, remember to always store below 40F. Foods to be prepared should be out no longer than two hours. Foods that are fully cooked should be out no longer than four. And foods that are hot should be rapidly cooled down before sealing up and storing. Just make me happy and print out the reference sheet, please! 


9.    Thou shall notify others when thou are behind them– Why can’t this be an everyday etiquette rule? It should be. I can’t tell you how many people are just so absorbed in their own task that they whip around and nearly knock my baby in the head with their shopping basket, or step on my feet when they back up. If you are walking behind someone, or entering someone’s blind spot, tell them you are behind them. It really should be common courtesy. 


10.  When thou hast doubt, thou shall throw it out– Please stop relying on the “sniff” test. If something has been in your fridge for longer than seven days, and less in some instances, and you are no longer certain that it is good, just throw it out. I know you are going to bring up food waste. Believe me, I despise wasting food. But I have two points to make here:


a.    If you follow proper food handling and storage guidelines, you shouldn’t be questioning the safety of your foods very often

b.    If you are following proper food handling and storage guidelines and you are questioning something, it’s probably for a good reason. Throw it out. 

‘Nuff said. 


So now that we’ve (exhaustively) covered the Ten Commandments of Kitchen Etiquette, let’s dive in to our last lesson.


Lesson 4: Mise En Place


First, I just want to congratulate you for making it through to this lesson. I know in some places I’ve been a bit redundant, and maybe even a tad (teeny but?) obnoxious about some points. But it’s with your best interests in mind, I promise. So please continue to bear with me, so that we can get to the fun stuff (eventually.) Let’s talk about mise en place! (Bless you!)


I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase before, whether it be in a movie or on TV, but essentially “mise en place” means “everything in its place.” In culinary school some chefs use it to mean your supplies for class, as in “do you have your mise en place ready?” Some people have taken the concept out of the kitchen and apply it to everyday life, which I think is a great idea. 


Here are the basic principles of Mise En Place, in a kitchen sense:

·     Show up to the kitchen in a clean uniform. Hair tied back. Nails clean and trimmed. Have a spare clean apron and set of kitchen towels on hand.

·     Read your recipe through before you gather any equipment. Read it twice if necessary to make sure you don’t have any questions before you begin. Take the time to get your questions answered satisfactorily before you start the recipe. 

·     Gather all of the “equipment” you will be using and organize your work space so that everything is within easy reach. (Cutting board, knife, cheese grater, mixing bowl, etc.)

·     Gather all of your ingredients (except things that must stay cold/frozen or are otherwise temperature-sensitive) before you begin to prepare your dish. Make sure you have enough of everything you need before you dive in.

·     Premeasure out ingredients, pre-chop herbs, shred any cheeses you will be using, etc. (Store these things in ramekins or small bowls/cups.)  Before you start cooking, take care of all of the “small tasks” that will be a distraction during the process.  

·     Clean as you go. Put things away when you are done with them. Make sure your work space stays as clean as possible throughout the entire recipe creation process.


Get the gist? Essentially, mise en place is the art of starting and staying organized throughout a task. Yes, you can absolutely incorporate this concept into everyday life. 


Here’s how to do that:

·     Show up dressed appropriately. Take care of your appearance. Look like you care. 

·     Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the steps of a task before you undertake the project. Try to understand as much as you can before you begin, but if you have a question, get help with it before you start. 

·     Gather all of the necessary ingredients/equipment before you start the task. Take care of any mini-steps within the process if you can, before you begin. 

·     Clean as you go. Keep your workspace organized, from beginning to end


See what I mean? Pretty valuable life concepts, if you ask me.  And especially when it comes to meal planning, mise en place is an essential element to keeping the process organized and streamlined. 


There’s no point in trying to guess if you’ll have enough eggs to create your recipe or realizing you’re out of flour after everything else is in the bowl. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to stress about trivial things like this by eliminating the likelihood of it happening in the first place. 


Stay organized, clean, and prepared. See how far you’ll go. 


That’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed these lessons in Kitchen Organization, and will maybe implement a technique or two into your daily life! Please click the link below to get my free cheat sheet on Kitchen Organization! 


Thanks for your time!