Mise en Place

To be truly prepared for a situation on duty, you must
have everything in its place, mentally and physically.

Dave Smith Headshot

Illustration: Sequoia BlankenshipIllustration: Sequoia Blankenship

English is a great language. It has essentially Germanic roots with Latin emphasis and some cool Gaelic tricks and other influences added in. We often find French words that are the same as Modern English ones because William the Conqueror made the English people use French for about 200 years. Therefore, I often wonder why it took me so long to figure out what "mise en place" meant, and why it was so damn important that I understood it.

I really enjoy cooking. I find it relaxing and enjoyable and I love having my amigos over for some grilled buffalo, or antelope, or even beef, often prepared in some novel or "appropriated" way. Sometimes my recipes turn out marvelous and sometimes my friends smile and say how great something was, while only eating a few ounces instead of their normal pounds of food. What I often found was the recipe was not bad—my preparation was. Garlic forgotten, salt left out, baking powder put away before being used, peas left in the freezer—all common errors that left the palate unsatisfied. And every one of these errors was careless and inexcusable.

Too often I would just read the recipe and, pulling one or two items at a time out of the refrigerator or pantry, unintentionally skip a vital component. A term you see from time to time in the cookbook is "mise en place," but I would just read on, blithely using my random walk-through cooking technique. Usually, I was very happy with the results and my guests happily drank their wine, satiated by their fare. But not always.

I grant you, no life was on the line with my cooking, since I am paranoid about salmonella and other little life forms. But there are life lessons to be learned by delving deeper into the culinary arts.

"Mise en place" translates from French as "everything in its place," and simply means being completely prepared before you start cooking. Ingredients measured, tools ready, pans out, mind focused on the task, and away you go. Sounds like a good sergeant's pep talk prior to hitting the street. It means reading through the recipe, checking your timing, preheating your oven, and double-checking the measurements; just like making sure your batteries are good, your cuffs are cleaned and lubed, your body armor is on, your firearm is ready to save your life, and your mind is right.

Before you go on patrol, mentally review the "recipe" for success.

Are you thinking of law enforcement's other sayings, such as "watch the hands," "preparation not paranoia," "not today," "remember the rule of plus-one," and "always look up"? I think "mise en place" needs to be right in there. Having everything in its place means your equipment, mindset, backup, and vehicles are pre-set for what can often become a chaotic situation, during which it's too late to tend to those things.

Before you go on patrol, make that next traffic stop, respond to that domestic dispute, or set up a perimeter, mentally review the "recipe" for success. Are your ingredients ready? Weapons, communications devices, and vehicle all ready to respond? Tactical awareness, knowledge of the problem area, winning mindset, and the best level of fitness you can obtain are all vital ingredients in every successful crime-fighting scenario.

Why do chefs often do a better job than we do when it comes to getting prepared? Every one of you can write a recipe for success in critical situations and mentally review it prior to the actual crisis. Maybe we should have little checklists, just like recipes do, for the ingredients we are using. Domestic? OK, I need at least one backup, I will not park in front, and I will have dispatch maintain contact with the complainant if possible. When done, leave the area, finish paperwork, and let cool for 10 minutes.

That's it! Write your own "cookbook" for success and mentally rehearse it every time you do a traffic stop, hold a field interview, conduct a building search, engage in a physical confrontation, or even go into the Stop and Rob for a cup. Leaving any key ingredient out of these situations can have a vastly more terrible result than me leaving the baking powder out of the biscuits. No one dies from the cakes that didn't rise — I just give them a fake French name and serve them anyway. Be safe and remember "mise en place."

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

About the Author
Dave Smith Headshot
Officer (Ret.)
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