A good kitchen is clean and orderly, and the work is generally consistent. Cooks run around under orders of chefs, often standing in one place for hours chopping vegetables or plating food. It’s loud, well lit and fairly sterile so on the surface, kitchens feel nothing like farms.
But having worked in both for many years, I can honestly say the crossover––or at least, the potential for crossover––is there. Indeed, a lot of the approaches chefs use to run a successful kitchen could easily be applied to running a farm. In fact, maybe they should be.
Mise en place
Mise en place is a French phrase that roughly translates to “put in place.” In kitchens, however, this is much more than a phrase. It’s a way of life.
Essentially, what mise en place means to a chef is that everything has a place, and it should always be in that place when not being used. Knives go where knives go. Pans go where pans go. If something is out of place, it throws off the rhythm and slows the place down. Chefs despise this, and so, too, should farmers.
If tools have a designated home, they can never be lost. When they are in use, they are in the hands of the user, otherwise they are home. Imagine the amount of time it would save to never have to look for your tools.
Mise en place also represents preparedness. This means coming to work ready, with sharp knives and in proper attire. And it means having everything you need when service starts. Why farmers and farm workers couldn’t follow the same system, I don’t know.
It would be good practice for employees and farmers alike to show up ready to work, in clothes that fit the forecast, with the tools they’ll need. Otherwise, more time is wasted.
Chefs love lists. Prep lists help to streamline the process so there is never a minute where cooks don’t know what they should be doing. They look at their list, and continue on. Having to look around and find something to do is extremely inefficient, plus lists can be checked off, which shows accomplishments and can be good for morale. When you get something done, mark it off the list. I almost always have a list going in my back pocket. I don’t know what I’d do without it––probably a whole lot less.
This seems like a small thing, but at the end of every shift, chefs break their stations down and clean them. Obviously, most farms are far too large to clean every day, but going through and making sure all tools are put up, wash stations are swept and general maintenance is covered would be a nice replication.
Bizarre as it may sound, farmers could also take a managerial tip from chefs: Give your staff a station to run.
In a restaurant, you have someone who is in charge of the salads (often called garde manger). You have a sauté person, a grill person, a dessert chef, an expediter (who sets the plates in order and sends them out) and maybe a few more. The point is that they all have their own responsibilities every day. If your operation is large enough to have a couple or few employees, consider giving everyone a responsibility of their own. Then, at least, you know who to look for if something did or did not get done.
And those are just a few ways the chef mentality could be transferred to the farmer. I’m sure there are others, but also, I’m sure the chef could learn something from the farmer. But that’s for another time!