A good cook holds the keys to happiness. Amidst the pots and pans of the kitchen are moments of gratitude and fulfillment, just waiting to be cooked into your next dish. This may surprise you to learn but cooking and happiness are more tied to one another than you think.
Mise en Place
The french philosophy of “mise en place” means “everything in its place,” and it’s used in professional kitchens around the world. In a professional kitchen, every member of the staff has their own station, and their stations must be set up in an exact order. This exact order is their “mise en place,” and it promotes efficiency and saves time. To a home cook, “mise en place” may look a little different, but the idea is the same: to save time and create a smooth workflow. To achieve “mise en place,” wash and cut all vegetables, measure all ingredients, season all protein, and set out all the cooking utensils you will need before you begin to cook.
When you do this, you are setting yourself up for success. You are reducing the likelihood of forgetting something because you set everything out beforehand. You create greater efficiency because you don’t have to rummage through your cupboards mid-cook for that garlic powder you forgot about. If you apply this tenet to the rest of your life, the relationship between cooking and happiness becomes clear. If you set the clothes for tomorrow out the night before, would you be stressed about what to wear in the morning? When writing a paper, wouldn’t you rather have all your research done before you start? Practicing “mise en place” in the kitchen prepares you to practice it in all other areas of your life.
When We Learn to Cook, We Learn to Live
There is an old Zen adage that goes: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” That’s true, and there is no better place to learn this than in your kitchen. When we cook with mindfulness, everything is a lesson. No one is more familiar with the bond between cooking and happiness than Edward Espe Brown. In his book The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, he says the following in a passage about caring for kitchen utensils:
“You cherish the knife with care and attention, and when you cherish the knife you cherish yourself.”
This is true of all cooking. We take care of our food so that it may take care of us. Perhaps you don’t like washing vegetables, but it’s a necessary part of the process if you want to cook. After all, if you don’t wash those potatoes, you can’t enjoy them scalloped and smothered in cheese. Do this work with gratitude, and it will return to you when you step outside the kitchen. Approach all chores with this mindset, and they will become less burdensome. For example, maybe you don’t want to go Christmas shopping, but you can’t wait to see your children’s faces when they open their gifts. And that work presentation may be tedious to put together, but giving it may lead to a raise. We can begin to cultivate a practice of mindfulness in the kitchen that extends far beyond.
Happiness and Cooking
When we truly care about the food we cook, we learn to invest time and interest in the final result. When we sit down to eat, we hope that our food is delicious and healthy. But this will only be so if we have prepared our food with the care it deserves. This takes work, but the work ethic built behind the stove can be taken everywhere.
The next time you get ready to cook dinner, be mindful of the lessons held within your kitchen. They’re yours to learn, one recipe at a time.