The first thing you need to understand is that your kitchen is a workshop, and all good workshops have a standard operating procedure.
The first thing you need to understand is that your kitchen is a workshop, and all good workshops have a standard operating procedure. In fact, more than one chef I know describes mise en place — “everything in its place” in French, what else? — as his religion.
Before you start any meal, you need to gather all the ingredients the dish requires: herbs and spices, vegetables, liquids and stocks, even partially cooked ingredients. Protein should be on the counter, well on its way to room temperature. All ingredients must be cut, premeasured, and lined up like soldiers — in the order in which they are called for once cooking begins. Ideally, your kitchen has two surfaces: one for work and one for use as a staging area.
However, the reason so many describe mise as a religion is the leap of faith. If all this preparation, never mind the hocus-pocus, strikes you as a tad overwrought, consider the organized chaos of most working kitchens. Cooking in a restaurant is like working in a submarine that is on fire. When you cook, you’ll be all alone (if you have any sense). Just you, your ingredients, and a whole lot of flame.