7 Things Professional Chefs Do that Help Me as a College Student

7 Things Professional Chefs Do that Help Me as a College Student

Chefs are some of the most productive people on the planet. Just for dinner, they have to prepare, process, and cook food for sometimes hundreds of people in two hours.

Doing this effectively requires incredible time and energy management as well as practice. They make one mistake and at best it means a late order and at worst, customers go home hungry. But chefs have a secret weapon: a French cooking philosophy called mise-en-place, which means “everything in its place.

This philosophy is detailed in Dan Charnas’s book, Everything in Its Place, where Charnas details how much mise-en-place can be translated to other industries to increase productivity and effectiveness.

By learning to cook and integrating mise-en-place into my own life I have become a much better College Student at Cornell. In this article, I will detail the seven things Chefs do using mise-en-place and how they have made me a better student. Hopefully, you will find some insight into how you can be a better student on the way.

First, we have to define what mise-en-place is.


As I said earlier, mise-en-place is a French cooking term that means "everything in its place." It comprises three central values: preparation, process, and presence.

Chefs spend most of their time preparing to serve customers by buying ingredients, pre-cutting, braising, stewing, or doing any other process that needs significant amounts of time. Similarly, most of my work as a student begins before the test or essay is due through studying, reading, writing, and attending office hours.

Process is the technique chefs use when it’s time to cook. Similarly, my process as a student is the ways I study for different classes, how I organize my time/energy and how I attack various assignments and readings.

Finally, chefs use presence by staying in the moment while cooking. As a student, this means staying grounded during a big exam knowing all the preparation is behind you and the only thing you can do now is work.

In this way, mise-en-place is both a physical and mental experience. It works off the fact that students must organize their minds before organizing their physical spaces.

Now that we know what mise-en-place is, let’s get into the ten ingredients chefs use to work clean and how we can translate them to student life.

The Seven Ingredients of Working Clean


For a chef, sequence is everything. You can't make sauce until you have made the stock; you can’t make the stock until you’ve roasted the bones and cut the vegetables; you can’t roast the bones until the oven is hot; and you can’t turn on the oven until you’re in the kitchen.

Like a chef, I try and break down every activity I do as a student into the sequence I need to get it done. For example, I can’t proofread an essay until I have done the writing, can’t write until I have done the outlining, and can’t outline until I have done the reading. Knowing which step of the process I’m in for any student task lets me be fully present in my work, knowing it’s the only thing I can do at the moment.

Charnas encapsulates this idea in the most important process from the book: The Daily Meeze. If you take away one thing from this article, it’s to do a daily meeze.

The daily meeze is a personal mise-en-place for your workday. A time to (a) clean your physical and virtual spaces, (b) clear your mind, and (c) plot your day. As a student I have a daily meeze every single evening before I prepare for bed.

During my daily meeze, I journal and reflect on the day. Then, I clean out my communication inboxes like email and text and plan my tasks and calendar items for the next day. I plan out when I will do school-related tasks like reading and studying when I will exercise, and when I will socially interact with my friends.

Arranging Spaces, Perfecting Movements

Chefs understand that the organization of their physical environment affects their mental environment. They arrange spaces in ways that help them offload the need to remember from their brain. For example, when cutting onions on a cutting board, they always have unprocessed onions on the left, onions they are currently processing in the middle, and processed onions on the right.

Similarly, as a student, I align my physical space with the work I’m doing. I have bookmark folders for the tabs I will need for regular assignments like reading for a class or writing emails. I like doing my work in a library or coffee shop because the vibe of the space helps me sit down and get to work.

Most importantly, I don’t leave a jar of peanut butter next to me while I work because we all know what would happen in that case.

Cleaning as You Go

Chef’s know a messy station equals a messy mind. To solve this, chefs clean as they go. While they are waiting for the onions to brown, they clean the dishes they have used so far.

As a student, I implement this by doing small logistical tasks during the open time slots in my day. With the five minutes before class, I close extra tabs, respond to communication mediums, or update my tasks list and calendar.

I wish my dad and brother implemented this philosophy back at home. Sometimes I’ll go into the kitchen, and it will look like this.

Making First Moves

Chef’s understand the first moment counts more than the later ones. If you don't preheat the oven before getting all the other things ready for a dish, you can’t start cooking the dish. In this way, the preheating of the oven counts more timewise than the preparation of ingredients.

As a student, I implement this by developing the two-dimensional concept of time chef’s use: process and immersive time.

Immersive time is worth its face value. Five minutes of energy now equals five minutes of energy later on. On Monday, I can do my reading for Tuesday’s class now or later on in the day.

Process time, however, can be worth much more than it seems. Consider the consequences of not emailing a Professor if you need an extension on an assignment before doing the assignment late. The 2 minutes you saved not emailing the professor earlier. is not just 2 minutes but the possible hours you spend doing an assignment which will, in a likelihood, give you a zero.

I implement this into my student life by dividing my day into clear periods of immersive and process time. During an immersive time, my favorite is the three hours before class in the morning, I do tasks like writing an essay for class and block all communication with the outside world. During process time, however, usually, in the five minutes before classes or after lunch, I spend time making my way through my communication mediums.

This lets me be fully present during my periods of immersive time. When I’m writing, I write. When I’m hanging out with friends, I’m hanging out with friends.

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Chefs understand that sometimes they need to take a breath, and slow down to speed up. They will clean, wipe down their stations, and take a break.

Similarly, as a student, I prioritize my work-life balance. Contrary to some of the other students I know beliefs, humans are not meant to stay up until 3:00 a.m. studying and surviving solely off of sugared coffee.

To stay sane, I get a full eight hours of sleep every night, exercise twice a day, and always eat at least one meal with a friend. On Fridays and the weekends, I try and do something fun with friends, like going on a long hike, heading down into central Ithaca for an event like Chilifest, or creating content for my YouTube channel, blog, and podcast.

But most importantly of all, I remind myself why I’m going to college in the first place. I want to learn to become a Professor and make lifelong friends and create experiences along the way.

I think, particularly at Cornell, one of the most rigorous and challenging institutions in the world, it’s easy to get stuck on grades. I try and remind myself that the grade I get in my classes are secondary to the knowledge and experiences I take out of them years down the line.

Open Eyes and Ears

Chefs develop an ability to be focused and at the same time, aware on multiple levels. Charnas calls this behavior open eyes and ears.

During prime dinner time, the kitchen is often chaotic. Chefs have to push certain words like buttons. “Ordering!” “Fire!” “Pickup!” are words they have attuned to to break them out of their concentration and listen.

As a student, I have done this by attuning myself to certain people and communication mediums I deem most important.

I surround myself with people that energize me. To enter my friend group, you have to pass the vampire test. If I feel more energized after interacting with your pass. If instead, I feel like my life energy has been sucked out of me, it’s a no-go.

This keeps me from having friends that only complain about their classes, how little sleep they got last night, or how much work they have.

In addition, I have defined a capture toolkit of three main information mediums I stick to, books, articles, and podcasts. I avoid almost everything else. I have created a list of my twelve favorite questions, which act as filters for the knowledge I capture and reduce information bloat in my second brain.

Inspect and Correct

Inspect and correct is the chef equivalent of a feedback system. After a meal is finished, most chefs must pass it through a series of three people, including the head chef himself, before it reaches the outside kitchen. If it doesn't pass inspection, they are told what was wrong and return to fix the dish.

Like chefs, I have implemented feedback systems related to my student work. I attend Professor and TA office hours to get feedback on an essay or an assignment or simply ask questions related to the class.

I ask students inside of my classes how they are organizing their day for their classes and TAs who have taken the class on any tips or tricks they have for doing well inside of the class.

If you resonated with this article, I suggest you get Everything In Its Place by Dan Charnas for yourself. It has a ton of other insights I didn’t have time to mention.