“A place for everything, everything in its place.” —Benjamin Franklin
There is a cooking practice, called Mise en Place [mizã ‘plas] which means putting each ingredient in place before you begin cooking. This is a classical approach to cooking used by professionals to have every ingredient ready to go at the beginning of service. For example, instead of having a bell pepper on the counter, a chef would prepare a container of bell pepper cut precisely the way she or he prefers. Chef would prepare this before any cooking began. Television cooking shows sometimes do this: every ingredient—even each spice—will be placed out on the counter in darling little bowls. This sort of preparedness and efficiency allows one to enjoy the un-rushed art of focused cooking that can lead to spectacular meals.
To follow “Mise en Place” literally creates a lot of dishes to wash and I have mixed feelings about this. I do keep some sweet little bowls in my kitchen, because I love them and I have collected them over the years when I see a cute one at a thrift shop. I don’t cook by recipe though, so I’m not measuring out a teaspoon of this or that and putting it in a lovely tiny bowl – only to empty it into the saute pan in a few moments. In fact, I enjoy a variation of “Mise en Place” cooking simply by having the lemons, limes, garlic, ginger, and other spices and herbs conveniently located to my cooktop. In fact, because my kitchen is tiny, everything is already conveniently located – and isn’t that the point of Mise en Place?
The beauty of a tiny kitchen is that you may set it up for efficiency. Everything can be right in its place, and right within reach, not because you got it out of the cabinet to put it there – but because that’s where it lives. The tiny house kitchen has a sort of built in efficiency that guarantees that every ingredient and tool is close at hand. You can still decide to prep ingredients before you begin cooking – such as cutting the vegetables and peeling the shrimp. Efficiency is one of the things I love about cooking in a tiny house kitchen.
In fact, Xaver and I visited our favorite AirBNB for a working vacation. There is an expansive glorious tricked-out kitchen that is pure perfection in every respect and I love it! I was looking forward to really spreading out and enjoying some cooking and baking in a “real” kitchen after having lived tiny for so long. What surprised me was how frustrating it was to want something that was on the other side of the kitchen and how much time I spent running around gathering up ingredients and equipment – not to mention cleaning it all and putting it back away. I was surprised how much longer it took me to prepare a very simple meal. I was also surprised by how annoying it was to want the plate that was held captive in a dish washer that wouldn’t be done washing for a while. In fact, I was very surprised to find that cooking in a large kitchen equipped with every possible convenience was much more tiring and much less fun than I remembered. Wasn’t this kitchen the holy grail? Surprisingly, no. Not to me. Not anymore.
Mind you, our entire tiny house could fit inside that kitchen with room to spare – so the scale and proportions are hilarious by contrast. For many people, a large kitchen is their “normal”. In fact, when we had the restaurant we had an expansive 580 sq ft prep kitchen and a smaller 240 sq ft kitchen where dishes were assembled and plated. I was used to cooking in a tricked-out kitchen… but look how my sense of normal changed after living tiny for a number of years?! Now, I’m perfectly happy to cook a great meal in a very small kitchen where everything is right at hand. In fact, having now tried the various cooking and baking options, I’d have to say that a tiny kitchen is my preference. I’m as surprised by this as you are.
Shrimp Rohini, recipe by Carmen Shenk
We tend to think of having a small kitchen as a problem to be dealt with. We wonder if we will have room to cook our favorite dishes or bake our favorite treats. We fear running out of space and being frustrated by a confining kitchen. But living tiny has taught me that cooking in a tiny kitchen is a wonderful thing. Everything is right there. There are no wasted steps. There is no needless complexity. It’s just focused, fun, efficient cooking. We tend to worry about the space we may lose in a tiny kitchen, but what if we focused instead on the efficiency we gain?
What if the tiny house kitchen was the “holy grail” of cooking and we just didn’t know it?!
That’s something to chew on, isn’t it?!
BTW, doesn’t that Shrimp dish look amazing? The recipe I created for Shrimp Rohini is here… (along with the story of what inspired it) and that’s one dish where cooking in the traditional Mise en Place style is a very good idea! Enjoy!