The patron saint of mise en place, Julia Child.
Mise en place is a French culinary phrase, expressing the idea that a chef should have all of their ingredients prepared and ready to use before cooking begins. Mise en place translates roughly to “everything in place,” and is a guiding principle used by world-renowned chefs and home cooks in kitchens all over the world. If you’ve ever started cooking dinner only to realize that the next step calls for a dozen peeled and sliced garlic cloves that you haven’t prepared, you’ve felt the pain of life without mise en place. A chef looking for the most streamlined and stress-free cooking experience will make sure all of their onions have been chopped, their carrots have been peeled and everything is in front of them before the stove clicks into ignition.
In America, mise en place has a patron saint: Julia Child. The lanky, late-blooming, muppet-souding chef, author and TV cooking show host was trained in the French culinary tradition while living in Paris with her husband who was on assignment with the U.S. State Department in the 1950's. Child is an icon, and you’re probably familiar with her legacy as the person who made high-brow European cooking methods accessible to American home cooks. Along with boef bourguignon, sole meunière, and proper omelet technique, Child introduced the idea of mise en place to home cooks more familiar with casseroles than coq au vin. With mise en place, cooking could be an adventure without becoming a disaster. Organization, vision and preparation could help you stay sane while preparing dinner for hungry, ungrateful kids or a dinner party of neighborhood VIPs. And through a little foresight and preparedness, mise en place could unlock a cooking experience even more creative than just winging it.
Which brings us to the soccer field. There are a select group of players who are constantly preparing their ingredients and combining them in both new and traditional ways. These players rely on reading the recipe in advance, understanding the raw materials in front of them, and making split-second improvisations when the steak is ready before the potatoes and the au poivre isn’t as poivre-y as it should be. These are highly skilled players, often found roaming midfields weeknights, deep into the knockout stages of European tournaments. Responsible for orchestrating their teams’ attacking play, these players know the menu by heart and they’re constantly experimenting with techniques that give their teams an edge. While they’re all cooking different kinds of food, one thing they’ve got in common is their unique ability to take stock of the ingredients in front of them, quickly prepare the dish in their mind and craft it to perfection under the glow of the hottest Champions League heat lamps.
But by regularly looking around the field he’s snapping mental photos of the scene around him, ready to get the ball where it needs to be and make use of seasonal ingredients supplied in the mid-season transfer window.
While it’s not clear if Luka Modric has read Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, he’s definitely practicing the art of mise en place. Few players are better at getting the ball from defense to attack in just one touch, and it’s vital for him to understand what's happening on the field around him in order to play first-time passes forward to attacking players. At any given time, Modric is scanning the field to see where his teammates are. He’s looking forward and back, across the field, and checking the movement of the defense at the same time. Because Modric is playing in the center of the field, his cooking surface surrounds him in 360 degrees, with his ingredients in constant motion. Without scanning the field, he’d be flying blind–improvising a meal without any idea what he’s got in the fridge. But by regularly looking around the field he’s snapping mental photos of the scene around him, ready to get the ball where it needs to be and make use of seasonal ingredients supplied in the mid-season transfer window. These passes might move down the field toward the opposing team’s goal or back into safer territory to re-start his team’s attack. Midfielders like Modric create this kind of non-goal fairly regularly during a game, by playing a pass to the right player at the right time and if you look closely you’ll see many actual goals start with the mise en place of an outstanding midfielder.
Non-Goal culinary master, Luka Modric.
Luka Modric is a well-known non-goal culinary master. Having won the Champions League multiple times with Real Madrid, featured in the World Cup final with Croatia, and been awarded the Ballon d’Or as Europe’s best player the 2018 season, he’s the Wolfgang Puck of world soccer. Lesser known, and playing on a smaller stage for Spain’s Villareal (also known as “The Yellow Submarine” due to their yellow kits) is Dani Parejo. Parejo generally occupies a deeper spot on the field a bit closer to his defenders, but he’s also a master of understanding the scene around him by constantly scanning the field. Parejo and Villareal gained a bit of notoriety by punching above their weight and reaching the semifinals of the Champions League in the spring of 2022, by playing well-organized defense and finishing clinically on the counter attack. Teams employing this strategy often rely on a player like Parejo to transition the play from defense to attack with a quick outlet pass from the center of the field. In the example here, you’ll see Parejo run back to receive a pass from his own keeper and then instantly play the ball out wide to an advanced winger with one touch of the ball. He scans the field several times to put his mise en place in order and with one strike of the ball he’s whipped up a tasty non-goal to the delight of millions of hungry viewers.
Dani Parejo's movement and scanning before he plays the ball out wide.
Julia Child once said, "The more you know, the more you can create. There's no end to imagination in the kitchen." As so many creative geniuses know, the key to unlocking creativity is often just the right amount of structure. By applying mise en place in the kitchen and on the soccer field, chefs, cooks and box-to-box midfielders learn to take stock of what’s in front of them before they create, setting the table for a rich feast of ingeniously crafted meals and non-goals.