My Grandmother’s Kitchen: Mise en Place

As I close my eyes, I see a flashback in my mind’s eye to those wee hours of the morning when all lay asleep, and I recall the precious time I spent as a child with my grandmother. I have endearing memories of following her around the kitchen every morning as she did her daily morning inspection of the kitchen before the hustle and bustle of cooking began. I remember how meticulous she was, checking and polishing every stain off the large three-foot tall clear glass bottles full of spices, grains, flour, lentils, legumes, and pickles that stood guard in our kitchen. The brilliant colors of turmeric, red chili powder, coriander, legumes, and grains were a sight to behold. I took it for granted in those days, but today, I have recreated a similar collection of spices, dahls, and grains in my kitchen.

My grandma adhered to strict rules in the kitchen. Hands had to be washed, no shoes or slippers were allowed in the kitchen, no tasting with fingers or touching the food while cooking, and hair had to be tied back or covered. My earliest memories are of Grandma teaching me how to make chappatis or roti. As I was rolling the chappatis, I touched the back of my hand to my cheek. All of a sudden, she whacked my hand with her rolling pin and reprimanded me for touching my face while cooking. I very quickly learned what not to do in my grandma’s kitchen. Years later, I realize I have inherited her meticulous practices in my own kitchen, for which I am ever grateful.

Today in my life, I realize the benefit and the importance of having everything in its place and ready to go. When you’re getting ready to cook a meal or start any project, for maximum efficiency, it’s best to have all ingredients in place before beginning. It requires planning and organization to enjoy the process and make it easier and faster. Think about a surgeon getting ready for surgery. All of his tools and his team are prepared before the surgery begins. It would be a disaster if he couldn’t find the tools needed during the surgery where it’s a matter of life and death. This concept of preparation is described very beautifully with the French term, mise en place. Literally translated, it means setting in place or putting in place. It’s essential to have everything you need organized, prepped, and ready at your fingertips before you start cooking. Then when you start cooking, timing is everything, and all ingredients can be added in succession. My grandma was such a fast cook, she could run circles around anyone and cook several dishes in just one hour because she had all she needed in place  before she began. I have adopted her cooking speed, and my family tells me I am the fastest cook they know. Today, I recognize the value and wisdom I received from my grandma in my early years. After all these years, I have distilled her kitchen wisdom in my newly published cookbook Turmeric & Spice: Indian Cuisine for the Mind, Body, and Spirit. If my grandmother were here today, she would be proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I couldn’t have done it without her example in the kitchen.