What’s Your Meez?

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain.

Not as a cook, particularly — I have never eaten anything he’s cooked, so how would I know if he’s any good or not — but as a writer and a personality. His book Kitchen Confidential is an hilarious and insightful look into the high-pressure life of a chef in New York’s insanely competitive restaurant world, and his travel show, No Reservations, in which he filters each of his destinations through the perspective of an omnivorous foodie, is excellent television.

I have Bourdain to thank for introducing me to the concept of mise en place, a term of art for chefs that also has a lot of applicability for geeks. I’ll let Bourdain’s pal Michael Ruhlman explain what mise entails:

Literally “put in place,” mise en place is the kitchen term for your set up, the gathering and preparation of all the tools and food you need to complete the task at hand; mise en place can refer to a cook’s organization on the line before the evening’s service (line cooks often refer to it simply as “meez” and can be extremely territorial about their own); mise en place can refer to the wooden spoon, wine, stock, rice, and salt you gather before starting a risotto. Because it’s such an important part of the chef’s life, so critical to efficiency of action and the use of time, the term often carries broader connotations of being ready. Excellent mise represents the ultimate state of preparedness, whether the physical mise en place of food and tools or the mental mise en place of having thought a task through to the end and being ready for each step of it.

For a chef, meez means what tools and ingredients you keep immediately at hand, and how you organize them. Which knives do you keep close? Which seasonings? Which ingredients? A glance at a chef’s meez tells you not just what they cook, but how they cook — what their approach is, what mindset they bring to their dishes.

The idea that meez can be found in the world of programmers as well as chefs is not a new one; Jeff Atwood explored it nearly two years ago. But to my surprise — Atwood is a super sharp writer and tech observer — he got it exactly backwards:

The concept of mise en place should be familiar to software developers. It’s why every member of the team has their development system set up identically. It’s why we use a common set of development tools. It’s why we take advantage of existing frameworks like nUnit and Log4Net instead of writing our own.

This is actually the opposite of mise en place, at least as I understand it. It’s not about not reinventing the wheel; it’s about your personal collection of tools and tricks, the things you carry to every project in your little black bag. A team where every developer has exactly the same setup has no meez, no room for each member to personalize their toolbox.

Which got me to thinking: what’s my meez? Like most geeks, I have a collection of tools that I keep close at hand. When I sit down in front of a new machine, the first thing I do is install them so that I have an environment that I can work in quickly and efficiently; in fact, I carry most of them around on a USB memory stick so that I don’t even need to install anything, I just plug in the stick and go. (Thank you PortableApps.com!)

So what are the tools in my meez? On Windows, my chef’s table generally looks something like this:

Once I have these tools at hand, I can pretty much do any task my job requires from anywhere I have an Internet connection. Of course, there are other tools I use as well, but these are the core bundle, the absolute basic set that I would not go anywhere without. (If I’m lucky enough to have access to a Linux workstation instead of Windows, the specific elements of my meez are different, of course, but the idea is the same.)

The beauty of the idea of meez, of course, is that your meez tells other people something about you. Some programmers spend years perfecting their .emacs configuration file. Others obsess over finding the perfect set of plugins for Visual Studio. A programmer in the first category will probably have very little in common philosophically with a programmer in the second category.

So for all you geeks out there — I showed you mine, now you show me yours. Hit the comments and tell me: what’s your meez?



March 21, 2008
3:16 pm

My meez has evolved over the years. In the past it consisted of software now it is strictly hardware.
– one bottle vodka
– one shotgun, loaded
This seems to really get the message across to the client/employer. And I’m quite sure that at times you’ve wish you had my meez.

Jason Lefkowitz

March 24, 2008
10:23 am

“I’m quite sure that at times you’ve wish you had my meez.”
That’s putting it mildly 😉

Meez and Da Svedish Chef | www.rubberchickenmadness.com

March 17, 2011
8:21 pm

[…] we did our Meez (you know…mise on place?), measuring and chopping and gathering supplies.  We looked seriously professional with all our […]