Nelson Mandela and Toothbrushes in the Kitchen


Photo courtesy South Africa The Good News

On a list of Mise en Place Leaders, Nelson Mandela has got to be towards the top. He embodied much of what this blog tries to bring out of its readers, and he epitomized the Mise en Place lifestyle during his 27 years in prison; especially during his 27 years in prison. I wanted to honor Mandela in this week’s post, but in trying my best to stay within the theme of the blog, I had to do some digging. One seemingly inconsequential detail about Mandela was his favorite food, tripe. He, in fact, asked for tripe even on his 94th birthday.

What is tripe, you ask? Well, it is one or more of the stomachs of various livestock, usually cooked in a broth (more on this later).  While cow’s rumen doesn’t seem particularly appetizing to me, when I searched for ways of preparing tripe, the focus of today’s post became clear.


Photo courtesy of Dennis Wong

Tripe is not a quick meal to make. The preparation guides I found say to allocate 3-4 hours of preparation and cooking. Most of this preparation involves meticulous cleaning of the lining of the stomach chambers in order to get rid of anything the animal left behind. MMMMMM! Here’s where Mandela’s favorite kitchen utensil comes in: they suggest using a clean toothbrush (which I hope one would throw away after use) to get rid of any hard to reach bits. It’s suggested that you do this before and after boiling for up to 90 minutes before even adding any of the other ingredients! I’m speculating, but I get the sense that Mandela loved the process of preparing tripe. One needs to be so focused and pay close attention to detail before the cooking even begins.


Photo courtesy of meddygarnet

The cooking is the easy part, while clearing away the unwanted parts and shaping the tripe is by far the most important. The toothbrush reminds the chef to get every square inch of the stomach ready to be added to the other ingredients. It slows down the process so the end product is that much tastier.  This meal is matched perfectly with Mandela’s nature and personality. He must have loved how long the dish took to prepare and how much preparation was needed before being able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Add to the meticulous process the need for a toothbrush, and I’m not sure you could find a meal more suited for this man.

The process of making tripe highlights the characteristics of a Mise en Place Leader that Nelson Mandela exemplified throughout his life. Remember, one can’t hurry tripe, so it better be Something Worth Cooking from the get go. Tripe isn’t for everyone, but for Mandela, waiting for the tripe to finally be ready to eat was just like his time in prison. His passion far outweighed his hunger. Of course he was hungry! He was starving. But somehow he knew he couldn’t get what he wanted just like that. Similarly, there are no shortcuts in preparing tripe, and there are certainly necessary steps if tripe is to be cleaned and prepared properly. One must have a Recipe For Success in order to create a sanitary, well-cooked meal.  Mandela used this same philosophy all those years in prison, where passion drove him and allowed him to put Everything In Its Place so that the execution of finally leading South Africa out of apartheid was the easy (relatively speaking, of course) part. He created a step-by-step plan instead of looking for quick fixes or immediate results.

I often tell my clients who don’t really know where to start in terms of beginning their development as a Mise en Place Leader to think of someone who they KNOW is a Mise en Place Leader; someone who is a prime example of an elite performer. I then ask them to think about what this person does that makes them so special. How do they act that lets you know they are so confident, poised, and driven? Once my clients explain how a known Mise en Place Leader acts, getting started with becoming one themselves is simply a matter of emulating some aspect of those behaviors.

Now, I’m not saying to run down to your butcher and grab some tripe for tonight (good luck getting the kids to try that!), but I am suggesting that you find one thing that your model of a Mise en Place Leader actually does! Yes, they are confident, but what do they DO to make them look that way? Maybe they stand up straight, maybe they smile a lot, and maybe they allow others in the room to talk before they do, but whatever it is that they do, try it out for yourself. Find one behavior which you can add to your daily routine that will let those around you know that you are ready to take on any challenge both in and out of the kitchen, no matter how long it takes or how meticulous you must be in your preparation. Just remember your “toothbrush” for those hard reach areas.

Check out more of Mandela’s favorite foods here.


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