Auguste Escoffier: The king of chefs

He was called “the king of chefs, and the chef to kings.” If there is one person who has overhauled the profession of cooking and being a chef, it is Auguste Escoffier. 

Escoffier revolutionized French cuisine and gave us the 5 mother sauces. He embellished and perfected over 5000 recipes. And from the late 19th century onwards, he partnered with Cesar Ritz (the founder of Ritz Carlton) to blow people’s minds away when they came to dine. Everyone from King Edward of Britain to Kaiser Wilhelm II loved his food!

After Escoffier, people saw being a chef as a worthy profession. But more than his food, what Escoffier affected the most was the kitchen.

Shaping up the kitchen

Before Escoffier, the kitchens were chaotic. The chefs would cook dishes after dishes based on how the orders came in. And some dishes would taste amazing while others would be a dud on the table. Tempers would flare along with the cooking ovens. Almost all big restaurant kitchens were chaotic and loud and inconsistent in what they delivered.

Escoffier bought consistency in the kitchen. The dishes would taste the same day in and day out. 

How did Escoffier do that for multiple restaurants from London to Paris to ? Escoffier was a big believer in shaping your environment to shape the outcome.

The first thing that Escoffier did was make sure that everyone had a particular job. That there was no confusion in who was supposed to do what. He got the concept of the assembly line in the kitchen.

And he made the assembly line work efficiently by implementing this idea of “mise en place”. 

What’s “mise en place?”

It’s a French term that means everything in its place. Chefs had to go through the recipe and make sure all the ingredients were laid out in proper proportion before they could even turn their gases on and start cooking. 

Mise en place helps people be more organized, as well as helping them focus on their tasks when fires are raging all around them. It’s become such an important word that today if you go to any culinary school, it’s the first thing that they’ll teach you. Without mise en place, chaos reigns in the kitchen.With mise en place, mistakes stopped occurring. 

Experiments have found that mise en place works wonders. Do you want to become more diligent at exercising in the mornings? Sleep in your work out clothes. Or at least keep your clothes ready and laid out. Preparation gets you to do the work.

Seth Godin the legendary marketer once observed that if you put a bag of cookies in the break room, it may sit there for days. But open the bag and leave it out and the cookies will be gone within an hour! Proper preparation removes friction and makes things easier.

But what if the type of tasks that you do don’t have tangible goods that you can prepare and lay out? 

The idea is to be prepared. With all the necessary equipment. But also mentally. To be in the right frame of mind to be at your best and to avoid mistakes. 

That’s where Escoffier shined. He created an environment that got rid of chaos from his kitchens. He made rules that everyone had to follow in his kitchen or they could be fired. People could not shout in his kitchen. And they could not drink in the kitchen (which apparently all cooks did!)

You have to shape your environment so it primes you mentally.

The John Paul Jones school in Philadelphia was infamous for being extremely violent! They had metal detectors at the gates! Armed security guards were hired inside the campus. All the windows had steel bars. At the end of the day, the police would line their cars outside the campus building to ensure safety!

In 2012, the school was taken over by American Paradigm Schools. They managed to eradicate violence in the school almost completely! By shaping the environment based on the outcome they wanted.

They got rid of the metal detectors and steel bars! And they refurbished the building by fixing broken things and painting it anew. They also asked all the armed security guards to not return.

The local police predicted that things would become worse. But they were proven wrong! Fights went down from 138 a year prior to just 15 in the whole year! Kids found their dignity in the new environment, and their actions changed accordingly!

Action Summary:

  • Mise en place is a powerful concept. The key question to ask is: what do you need to do this task? How should you prepare?
  • Preparation needs to start from the mind to reduce friction. Shape your environment. Then lay out the tools.