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Mise-en-place – Everything in its Place

Don’t know if you knew this, but 35 years ago I took a hiatus from my career, and moved back to my home state of Arizona when my children were about to enter High School. In making this decision, I knew I would find great support from my family who lived there. It was at this time that I also made another of my dreams come true. I opened a lunch restaurant aptly named by my daughter, “Eat Your Heart Out”. I know, am I nuts of what? I started in a small 850 sq. ft space and within a year moved to a much larger space where we also served dinner and added catering.

In all of this love/hate/frustrated/love/dedication/etc., I learned so many amazing lessons. Out of necessity I learned from one of the best (that’s another whole story) to become a chef and cook to order during the dinner hours. Here is one of the most important lessons I learned from the get go…there is a term, a ritual if you will, that is essential for all chefs. It’s called mise-en-place and means everything in its place. It is the planning phase of every meal, the moment when chefs evaluate the totality of what they are trying to achieve and create an action plan for the work ahead.

Anthony Bourdain, a great chef, philosopher, author, and TV host of programs about food, wrote in his bestselling Kitchen Confidential. “As a cook, your station, and its condition, its state of readiness, is an extension of your nervous system….The universe is in order when your station is set." Chefs like Bourdain have long appreciated that when it comes to exceptional cooking, the single most important ingredient of any dish is planning. It’s the “Meez” that forces Bourdain to think ahead, that saves him from having to distractedly search for items, and that allows him to channel his full attention to the dish before him.

Obviously, most of us don’t work in professional kitchens. And yet the value of applying a similar approach—deliberately taking time out to consciously plan and set a deliberate action before we begin a task—is arguably of paramount importance. Studies show that when it comes to goals, the more specific your actions, the better your chance of success. Having each step mapped out in advance in a prioritized way will also minimize the need to think and do at the same time. So, as a singer, you start your practice sessions at a time of day when you have the most physical and mental energy. This entire exercise of channeling your full conscious focus is a must if you are interested in making big strides forward quickly.

How would it be if before you started your vocal or musical practice session, to take the time to focus with this much forethought and set up a deliberate and conscious action plan? Do you know what you want to accomplish and how to go about taking action? Professional chefs envision the perfect execution before starting each dish. So as a singer why not do the same. Strive to approach each of your practice sessions with a brief planning session. Figure out where and with what you want to begin. What action are you placing your conscious focus on? What outcome are you looking for with this action? What is your main priority in this moment? When you are done, what do you want to have accomplished? At the end have you achieved your goal? You’ll also notice that having a list of concrete action items (rather than a broad list of goals) is key to achievement. No longer should you have to pause and think through each step. Instead, like a master chef, you can devote your full attention to the execution.

So Avanti, go get um! Now you know what I think, let me hear from you about what you are thinking. Ciao, Carol

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