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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Mis En Place

Mis En Place

Mis en place is a French phrase that literally means “put in place,” but it’s used by chefs to refer to their “setup” for what they’re going to cook. In other words, ingredients, spices, prepped items, and the necessary tools needed to accomplish this. For me, I’ve always just thought of the term as a reference to my “stuff” that I’m going to use to prepare the night’s recipes. My little piles of items that are so important in producing your meal.


We had a phenomenal kitchen setup in the Bend house, and I miss it like nobody can imagine, unless you’ve made a similar transition. My “dream kitchen” consisted of a great 36″ six burner stove with a huge convection oven. I had a second convection oven and microwave built into the wall, giving me tremendous flexibility in preparing complex meals. Big refrigerator, a huge functional center island, nice stainless sink with two deep wells, custom travertine tile everywhere, a silent dishwasher … you get the point.


Relocating to the Bay Area meant compromises. First, a very small apartment for the first few months where I didn’t even unpack most of my “stuff.” Neither the cupboard nor the stove would accommodate my 16-quart stock pot, let alone the 20-quart. And now we’re in an older home with equally old appliances and minimal work surfaces, where I prepare all the lavish meals that I write about, and you, faithful readers hopefully enjoy reading about. But alas, this isn’t a “woe is me” essay, but rather one about the things that cooks need to have handy. To organize the ingredients for a meal … places to hold the ingredients (the bowl collection), things to cut them up (the knife collection) and of course all the little spices that make them taste so good for our appreciative audiences.


Prior to my six weekends at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco (now a Le Cordon Bleu school), I’d never used bowls. Never really thought about doing so. But once you get into cutting several items into neat little juliennes, chiffonades, minces, fine chops, etc., you need to “stage” them in preparation for their inclusion into the meal you’re constructing. Hence … bowls. Mine come in 3 sizes: 4”, 6”, and 8” diameters. I have tiny ones for garlic, saffron, small spice combinations, etc., but the 4″ variety is generally the small “workhorse” of the group. Medium bowls hold a little more, larger ones will accommodate a couple chopped onions. If I’m chopping 6 onions, it’s a mad dash to the bottom drawer under the oven, where the monstrous bowls are hibernating until they’re required. Which is often.


My jambalaya recipe contains 10 different spices, a combination of celery, onions, and peppers, andouille sausages, chicken, etc., ALL of which require bowls or some way to store them on the counter, as you’re assembling the dish. I don’t think I could make this without my bowls! They’re indispensable to have in your kitchen. Mine ran me a couple bucks, and I’ve had them all since 1994. If you have a restaurant supply store nearby that sells to the public, this is your best bet.


Knives are obviously a chef’s pride and joy. There was a time when I maintained that I could do an entire meal with one or two knives. Which ones? I could probably survive on a desert island with a small paring knife and my Lamsonsharp Chinese-style cleaver (a “slicing” vs. chopping cleaver). Fortunately, I wouldn’t have to, because I’m a total nutcase for knives, and have way too many of them. An unjustifiable accumulation of cutlery, for sure. And I use and appreciate every single one of them.


They include a couple Victronix chef’s knives, Dexter-Russel’s in a variety of sizes (requirement at the California Culinary Academy), 4 Globals, a couple Henkels, a Wustof 6”, and a couple Japanese cleavers. Plus, a beautiful Shun chef’s knife, which resides in its custom bamboo holder. The Shun is obviously a pleasure to use and cuts better than the $22 Dexter-Russell, but is it TEN TIMES better? Of course not. I’m a sick puppy, and I should seek professional help for it.


There is a collection of “stuff” that I keep just to the left of the stove and use with virtually everything I create. There’s a shot glass full of plastic spoons for both me and my anxious guests to “taste” what I’m making. A collection of potholders (nothing pretty – they’re in the drawer and I never use them. Note to “friends” of cooks: we don’t want / need / use fancy potholders. Just the ones that work and stave off heat from our scorching pots and pans).


The three utensil containers that also sit next to the stove contain the “most used” collection of this and that, that I, and every cook, uses on a daily basis. Specialty items can live in a nearby drawer, but you need to have these available for “right now” use. A peeler, meat thermometer, a couple of spatulas, most-used graters (two Microplanes minimum), pasta server, spoons – slotted, big, small, soup/sauce varieties, whisks, can opener, ice cream scoop, etc. These are the things that I need to have a “stretch” away. Not in a drawer buried under the designer / cutesy potholders that I’ve already said we NEVER use. Handy … easy to grab.


Cooking is akin to a dance, in my humble opinion. And this is coming from a devout “non-dancer.” I’ve played drums since I was 14, and have no problem with two bass pedals, a hi-hat pedal, and 2 sticks flying over my five drum surfaces, but dancing’s type of coordination I’ve never mastered. But orchestrating a collection of ingredients and creating a masterpiece with them requires a coordinated set of movements that are practiced, perfected, and applied in a very artistic fashion to create something special for family, friends, and cherished guests who truly appreciate your efforts.




Adapted from a Paul Prudhomme recipe, and modified to my taste


Seasoning Mix

Combine: 1 tablespoon each – Sweet paprika, onion powder, salt

2 teaspoons each – White pepper, black pepper, dry mustard, dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon each – Ground cumin, cayenne pepper


Main Ingredients

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

2 green bell peppers, chopped

4 ribs of celery, chopped

1 6-8-ounce package of smoked ham or turkey, julienned (slice thin)

1 package of Andouille Sausage (Aidell’s are the best), sliced thin at an angle

2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

3 bay leaves

2 28-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, with the juice

6 cups of chicken broth

3 cups of uncooked white rice

1 package of frozen chopped okra (don’t use fresh or whole – not the same effect)

Gumbo File (spice section at your supermarket, usually a tallish thin glass jar)

2 tablespoons of canola oil

Tabasco Sauce (red, original style)


To Prepare

Heat the oil in a large stockpot (10 qt or bigger) to medium high

Combine 2/3 of the onion/celery/peppers, 1/2 the andouille sausage, 1/2 the seasoning mix in the pot. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom when needed, for 10-12 minutes. You’ll think it’s going to burn – it won’t if you keep stirring.

Stir in 1/2 the stock, 1 can of tomatoes, return to a boil, cook another 10 minutes

Add the chicken, smoked turkey/ham, remaining seasoning mix, cook another 10 minutes stirring occasionally

Stir in the second can of tomatoes, frozen okra, remaining onions/peppers/celery, andouille, and stock. Return to a boil, cook another 10 minutes

Stir in 1 tablespoon of gumbo file

Add the rice, stir well, partially cover the pot, simmer for 20 minutes.

The jambalaya should get thick but not dried out. Check as the rice is cooking and if it’s too thick or dry, add more hot water or chicken stock.

Serve with Tabasco Sauce and Gumbo File

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