Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

I like watching all those cooking shows. Especially “Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals” show.

There’s something special about a witty, charming woman that can whip up a feast in half an hour. Like ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser once quipped in a similar situation, “I like her. She’s cute as a button and plays to win.”

But wait a minute. Haven’t you ever looked at Rachael (or other TV food stars) and said, “Of course they can assemble a meal so quickly. Those, EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) and Bam! — culinary stars have everything already prepared! A cup of chopped onions, two cups of diced potatoes. Heck if my recipe ingredients were prepped I could be as efficient. That’s not reality!”

My chef-daughter recently corrected me. It is reality.

The French culinary term for being so prepared is called mise-en-place (pronounced Meez ahn plahs), which means to be put in place. Much of what chefs do depends heavily on how well everything is prepped so that when crunch time hits and they have hungry diners lined up they can execute meals quickly and efficiently.

Sound familiar?

So much of what efficient produce managers do follows the mise-en-place example. When a new produce load arrives, the receiving produce clerks have the tables rotated and stocked, the back room is free of pallets and debris, and the delivery gets put away quickly and safely.

The well-organized morning clerk expects leafy greens pre-washed, banded and trimmed. Same with other items that may slow him down when setting the wet rack. Many times the closing shift clerk will load a fresh case or two of each item on carts for the morning shift. This saves the morning crew time by not having to search out what they need or slow down to trim multiple cases.

One good turn deserves another.

Likewise, as the morning shift wears on, the smart early clerk also provides prep for the closing shift. This could include crisping the leafy greens, trimming cases of celery, cabbage or lettuce. Perhaps it’s air-stacking the bananas, helping stay caught up on rotation or stocking — anything to be prepared so that when the evening shopping rush hits it’s not only manageable but less stressful too.

For produce managers, mise-en-place can mean having the cooler organized so that order writing goes quickly and is transmitted with time to spare. It’s organizing the sign kit so that subsequent signing tasks go smoothly. Or having ad signs pre-printed so that when Wednesday morning arrives, the daunting signing chore is a breeze.

Running a produce department is never easy. However, with a little preparation, having a place for everything and insisting that everything is in its place, you’ll be ready for business.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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