My Meez (And the Sense of Urgency)

After visiting Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, I was sort of ruined.

How clean it was — the complexity of pastry — the croissants that must have gone through a sheeter a thousand times to get all those layers. I must admit though, the Yountville scene is kind of creepy to me. What I’m sure was once a small town with simple gas stations now turned wine shops and a dry cleaner called the French Laundry now a world renowned, 3-star Michelin rated restaurant — it sort of rubbed off on me in an odd way.

I say creepy because I’m afraid of fancy-schmancyness. I don’t feel like I belong. I feel judged by the wait-staff and have a right to be. But, that’s just coming from me.

Creepiness aside, T. Keller and folk know how to cook. Their meticulous passion for detail and cleanliness is really something to be admired. You also have to be in a continuous state of working your ass off to maintain that glamour. I reckon’ it just depends where you want to put your efforts. I’ve said this before, I’m much more interested in the created memory of a place. Not so much that the service was awful or the food was crap. But I suppose it’s a culmination of those things. Ah hell, who am I kidding, the food is important. 🙂

I received Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook last week. It’s gorgeous and intimidating. The idea of making macarons at my skill level is doubtful. Cookbooks these days use a lot of narrative, which I really enjoy. I like seeing what makes a chef work. What drives them to continue their craft without getting too burnt out or regretful. In one section, Keller talks about being clean and organized and how that makes a good chef, a great chef.

But it’s bigger and not limited to the kitchen. Your emotional state is noticeable on the floor and it will bite at you. If you’re not prepared in your head, you’re going to have a messy time.

In the food industry, you have what is called your mise-en-place. In short, we say ‘meez’. It means, “putting in place”. When you cook on a line, your meez is your best friend and spirit guide. Not only is it the raw ingredients for your soon-to-be completed dish, but it’s a state of mind. You don’t wanna have to go looking for sliced onions when you’re busy. You also don’t want to be cutting things during service. You’re more likely to hurt yourself in a hurry.

If I’m able to prep well for busy lunch and dinner service on the weekends, my days go by so much better. The same goes for home cooking. Having all the things you need before you start to cook is incredibly important to throwing down a stress free meal.

I’ve seen in some of Keller’s kitchens, he has the phrase “Sense of Urgency” underneath the clocks hanging on the wall. I like that. For one, he’s spot on. When putting out food, there is, or at least should be in your head, that sense of urgency. That someone is waiting on you to cook them food. This is also what makes cooking for a living so stressful. But I’ve honestly found it to be a very good sense of urgency to me. It keeps me focused and aware without having someone scream at me.

This is something that I’m always working on. Not just in the kitchen, but outside. When I wake up and start the day, I’m thinking how I can organize things in my head to work through it smoothly. I think organized and clean people make really great cooks. That is, if they want to bring themselves to that life style. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure.

Of course, managing a production line at a corrugated box facility sounds terrible to me. We all have our things, right?

Anyways, those were just some of my thoughts as of late. I’m learning good things. I’m a firm believer that restaurant work instills good work ethic, if you work hard at it.

And whatever it is you do, prep and work hard for it. (Ah, and clean, clean, clean.)

I mean, we’re not all that different…

you and I.


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