Mise en Place: How Lauryn Niemants Discovered Her Passion
May 29, 2020 11:36AM
By Erin Walter
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Cooking is an art that encompasses Lauryn Niemants’ entire being.
“Mise en place” is a culinary term that means “everything in its place.” It is the preparation and assembly of ingredients, pans, utensils, plates, and everything needed for a particular dish or service period. It is a fundamental rule of the culinary arts.
At 19 years old, Niemants is a commis with Culinary Team Nebraska, Metropolitan Community College’s competitive culinary team, and former “garmo,” or garde manger, at Dundee’s Baela Rose.
She describes “mise en place” as more than just the prep of the physical aspects of the kitchen. It is also the prep of the chef’s mind. It is making sure that her mind is clear so that she’s ready to focus on what needs to be done.
When she’s cooking, her mental state is equally as important as the physical prep of her ingredients. If something isn’t mentally right, she can’t be 100%.
“It’s the idea that everything has to be put in its place, everything has to be measured out, every part of [myself] has to be calm to then go into the kitchen and approach cooking like an art and not like I’m just going to throw some things in a pot,” Niemants said.
An Omaha native and Central High graduate, Niemants, a self-proclaimed theater nerd in high school, originally decided to study vocal performance at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.
After a year, she decided to come home and start fresh. “I wasn’t very happy in Vermillion,” Niemants said. “I decided that it was just not at all where I needed to be, and I completely did a 180.”
Upon returning home, she started working at Cupcake Omaha, where she fell further in love with baking. She also returned to her high school job as a hostess and waitress at Baela Rose before she had the opportunity to take her talents to their kitchen.
When she realized that Omaha is home to one of the best culinary programs in the United States, she thought to herself, “You know what? Let’s give this a shot.”
“I just kind of fell head over heels,” Niemants said.
She is currently in the Culinary Arts and Management program at MCC. After she completes this degree, she plans to immediately start working toward a Hospitality and Restaurant Management degree, which is another program that MCC offers through their Institute for Culinary Arts.
MCC’s culinary program has given Niemants a love for food in a way that she never imagined possible. “As somebody who started from basically nothing in the culinary industry, they’ve kind of given me everything,” she said. “I care for my ingredients as well as I care for my tools and myself while cooking. I think that I’ve just been given the passion, in general, that the instructors show you as a student, as someone that they want to see grow and learn and see you succeed. I think that I’ve been given that passion.”
Niemants is taking advantage of every resource she can at MCC.
As a commis, or junior chef, with Culinary Team Nebraska, she is there to help out with everything that happens behind the scenes before and during practices and competition. During a typical practice week, she spends all her time “mise en placing,” measuring everything out, and getting timelines together so that everything can be as close to perfect as possible for their 11-hour practice session over the weekend.
As the vice president of Tri Omega, a culinary-focused organization led by MCC students, Niemants organizes opportunities for her peers to gain industry experience that they can carry into their career. Niemants and her peers named Tri Omega after Omega3, the vitamin that is found in fish.
From these activities, she has gained somewhat of a second family within culinary school. “I have such a tight knit group of people,” Niemants said. “We are spending all week doing everything together; they are my best friends in the entire world.”
It was her first family, though, that gave Niemants her foundation in the kitchen. Her mom showed her how to cook well on the stove, her stepmom introduced her to the art of baking, and her dad, like most suburban dads, she said, was always “king of the grill.”
As a garde manger at Baela Rose, Niemants made all of their bread and worked on small plates like salads, desserts, and appetizers. “I feel like I truly fell in love with food when I started working back-of-house at Baela Rose,” she said. “I saw that food could be a piece of artwork on a plate, not just like family style, served up at a table.
“I like [my food] to be bright—I like working a lot with acidity, I like things to be colorful,” Niemants said. “My personality is somewhat bright and outgoing, and I feel like my food kind of comes off that way, too.”
Baela Rose closed its doors on March 19 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
MCC has transitioned to online classes, and the regional competition for Culinary Team Nebraska was canceled, along with all of the events that Niemants had planned for Tri Omega.
Despite everything, she is hopeful for the future. “I’m trying to approach it with more of an open mind,” Niemants said. “By going into it thinking, ‘Oh, everything is ruined now,’ that’s not doing anybody any good.”
Niemants has been finding online fundraisers organized by celebrity chefs to raise money for people who worked in the culinary business and lost their jobs because of the pandemic. “I’ve been sending those out to all my friends,” she said. “It’s little things like that that are important. It’s really awesome. I’m just trying to keep going.”
Visit mccneb.edu for more information.
This article was printed in the June 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. The online version was updated to reflect Niemants' change in employment. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.