Working in restaurant kitchens can be chaotic, loud, stressful, and hot, so chefs rely on prep and organization to ensure they work smarter not harder. The term “M.E.P,” or mise en place, is used heavily in professional kitchens, which translates from French to “put in place.” In order for smooth service, everything in a restaurant kitchen has to live in its allotted spot—all your ingredients need to be set up neatly and on hand and your tools need to be close by.
You don’t need to have ever worked in a restaurant to benefit from these organizational principles. In fact, a lot of the same ideas and practices can extend to the home kitchen—here are the top three that I recommend stealing.
1. Use a Half Speed Rack
In professional kitchens, chefs use speed racks—which are essentially rolling shelves—to hold and transport kitchen items. With 5 inches of space in between each shelf, speed racks are especially great for holding sheet trays of cooked or baked food to cool in a space-saving manner. A half-sized speed rack holds 10 full (18 x 26 inches) or 20 half (13 x 18 inches) sheet trays. Speed racks are great for home use too because you can store ingredients, equipment, tools, kitchen towels, and whatever else you want on the sheet trays and space them out accordingly. But that’s not all: the caster wheels make it easy to move the speed racks around, and you can also use the stainless steel top as an extra prep station.
2. Use Deli Containers and Cambros
In case you ever wondered where chefs go to cry, it’s the walk-in (aka the fridge). In this fridge—besides sweat and tears—you will find everything stored neatly in labeled and dated cup, pint, and/or quart-size deli containers. These containers are better than other Tupperware for a myriad of reasons, as long as you get sturdy ones. They are space-saving, stackable, completely clear with interchangeable lids, handle higher heat, and are totally dishwasher safe.
When chefs need to store more than a quart’s worth of food, the vessel of choice is called a Cambro. Cambro is the brand name for these sturdy, high-quality food storage containers. The square ones are generally better than the round ones because their curved corners allow for easy pouring and they save more space. They range in size from 2 quarts to 22 quarts, they can withstand temperatures of -40°F to 210°F, are they're odor-resistant and virtually indestructible.
And if you want to get really wild, invest in some kitchen or painter’s tape to label and date everything.
3. Use a Bain for Organizing Your Kitchen Tools
A bain marie is a technique for gently heating food (or keeping it warm) in a water bath. You can use many tools for a bain marie, but typically in a restaurant kitchen, we use a stainless steel cylindrical vessel. When they’re not in action, chefs use these vessels (which you might hear referred to as the “bain” in restaurants) to hold all the tools they need during their shift. In my home kitchen, I keep a bain filled with my everyday tools right next to the stove for easy access. My only note: don’t put our knives in a bain because they’ll get jostled around and become dull.