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Student Life: The Importance of Mise en Place

Written by AJ Fusco
Professional Culinary Arts Student

I would like to start off by introducing myself and giving you a little background on myself.  I am a career firefighter in Westchester County and also attend ICC in the Professional Culinary Arts program.  My passion for cooking is just as strong the one I have for firefighting, which is what led me to the decision to become a “career adder.”  I have always had a second job while being a firefighter, and decided I would like to pursue something I truly loved.  Now, I have the best of both worlds!

One of the first things we learn at ICC is “Mise en Place”, or “to put in place”.  The emphasis my Chef Instructors put on this concept could not be greater, but rightfully so.  We all know the kitchen can be a volatile environment filled heat, smoke and the ever present danger of fire and injury.  And now that I think about it, the kitchen is very similar to being in a fire!  The intense adrenaline rush of service parallels those same feelings I get when operating on the fire-ground.  And just like cooking in a kitchen, being prepared as a firefighter is vital to a successful operation.  This is when I started to connect the dots between having your mise en place in both the kitchen and the firehouse.  

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We train in the firehouse to make sure we are prepared for whatever emergency may come our way.  The fire trucks are set up in a way so that equipment is organized together and easily accessible at any moment’s notice, just like having your ingredients and tools ready to go for a busy dinner service.  But before I started ICC, I admittedly was a messy cook in the firehouse.  Having all my ingredients ready to use was just not on my mind, which certainly didn’t help the situation of not knowing if an alarm would come in while getting dinner ready for a group of hungry firefighters.  That all changed when I learned about this thing called “Mise en Place”.  Suddenly, my meals not only tasted better but I was able to cook more efficiently in the unpredictable firehouse kitchen.  Countless times I have been prepping for a meal, when suddenly an alarm comes in and everything has to stop.  The oven and burners get shut off, and we are out the door, unsure of when we will be back to finish cooking the meal.  But having everything ready to go when we return to the firehouse has prevented plenty of take-out which is always a plus. So to say “Mise en Place” has changed me for the better as a cook would be a severe understatement!