Getting my mise straight
I am the last person on the planet to have read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. There are several reasons for this. I like eating out and I didn’t want to know how the sausage was being prepared. And I’d seen a couple of the TV shows, and I found Bourdain’s punk-rock machismo fun, but wearying. But recently I was hanging with fabulous Tess Gerritsen, talking foodie talk, and she said I had to read it, so...
It was a fun book, not nearly as shocking as I’d been lead to believe (I once worked in a restaurant, and more importantly, I’d read Orwell’s superb and horrifying Down and Out in Paris and London). And yes, the attitude was there, but surprisingly, that was one of the things I related to. The way Bourdain describes a hot and heaving kitchen in the middle of a meal service reminded me of being in the field, on that last afternoon when you’ve got half a dozen crew-members clamoring for your attention, important visitors on the way, a reporter wanting an interview at the same time the porta-potty tipped over, someone’s started bleeding, and someone else has just made the most important discovery of the whole season right before a Shakespearian-class nor’easter opens up on us.
(Yes, I have to mention archaeology in every post. It’s in my contract.)
I dug the way Bourdain told those kitchen stories, and, frankly, related to the swagger that comes from trading war stories with those who’ve been there.
There was another element of the book that stuck with me, and that was the constant quest to keep one’s mise (Fr., pronounced ‘meez’) straight. A mise-en-place is the set-up that a chef has at his station, the collection of ingredients needed to prepare a range of dishes. Those little bowls of stuff Jacques Pepin always has lined up and ready to go as he cooks? That’s his mise.
Writers have their own mises, too. And honestly, sistah, my mise is in the weeds.
Before any project, I clear out my office, clean off my desk. I haven’t kept up properly since before Alaska. Which was September. It’s in a gruesome state, but I can deal with that. What’s really messing with me is that my iPod somehow lost my playlists. I don’t really need a lot to write, but I do need my music, and the playlists have come to really define how I work. When I’m in the middle of something big and need that little boost, and don’t get it…it gets ugly. Remember the scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? “Volume! Clarity! Bass! We must have bass!” That kinda ugly.
I’ve gotten so addicted to my iPod that I can hardly function. I tried to tell Mr. G that I couldn’t possibly go to the gym without it—I couldn’t even work, how can I go to the gym?—but he didn’t seem to think that was a good reason for ditching.
It took a while, but I was able to reconstruct the most important playlists. The office remains to be done, but before that can happen, there is something else, something even more likely than my office to mess with my mise…
Good night and good luck.