In theater and film, they talk about 'mis en scene' - staging basically, the composition of actors and set and props on the stage or in a shot.
In cooking, we do 'mis en place.' Again with the French! (Pronounce it: meez on plahss.) It's also staging. Preparing everything you need to cook with - food and tools - and having it all at the ready (composed), at hand, by the stove. I hear it translates to 'put in place' or 'everthing in its place'...but I regret to inform you that - are you sitting down? - aside from two years in Mr. Quercio's high school French, I am not fluent, and I am a trusting soul...so we're gonna go with 'put in place.' (Though I like the idea of it actually translating to 'stick it up your pants' and we all are just buying into it.)
It's a highly common-sensible thing to do. In school they stress it. It even has, in kitchens, become a bastardized verb or noun. 'I still have to meez...do your meez...meez this dish...' At home, to be honest, I do it or don't depending on the dishes being prepared. If you're doing a stir-fry, it's essential. A stew? Mm...probably not so much. You can generally do simultaneous prepping and cooking for something like that.
I like to meez.
Don't laugh. That is, to some, essentially saying you like to collect stamps or organize your sock drawer. BUT...I find prep work somehow relaxing and comforting. Sue me.
It's not rocket science. (Cooking seldom is.) Just go through your recipe and try to get everything cleaned, chopped up and ready to go, so once you start firing up your dish everything is at hand. The idea being, you don't want to toss that minced garlic in the pan and discover you don't have the accompanying...oh, say...minced ginger and said garlic burns while you attend to the skipped task. Or you need to whisk hot stock into your perfectly golden roux and remember you loaned your whisk to the plumber who lives next door (for reasons best left unsaid, un-wondered about...).
It will add some extra dishes, but let's just assume you have a dishwasher or a grateful spouse who jumps at the opportunity to clean up after you (we love you, spouse!). In school, I got a real jones for these little Pyrex prep dishes that could hold every chopped up individual ingredient. In fact, all my classmates apparently lusted after these things because there was generally one whopping shortage of little Pyrex prep dishes for those who didn't act fast enough. At home - yes...damn it! I DID get some little Pyrex prep dishes for home - I will generally prep things and try to organize them all onto a plate or couple plates, but sometimes I just have to break out the prep dishes.
Do your meez, babies. Meez it! Get your shizzle all prepped and ready to go and you will be amazed at how fast and easy the actual process of cooking feels.
Mis for a pasta dish. (right) Notice those swanky prep dishes!
Mis for a stir-fry (above).