Call me naïve. I assumed the majority of restaurant appetizers and entrees were cooked after the food was ordered. (Yeah, I know what they say about assume.) But it's quite the opposite. At least in my limited experience.
Most of the food to be served is prepped before service begins, and is either placed in a steam table (sauces, rice, mashed potatoes, polenta) or is reheated (without being re-cooked) when it's ordered. That's called flashing.
Vegetables are blanched and shocked, and then sautéed as needed.
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Pasta is cooked to almost al dente, cooled and flashed in boiling water before serving. Same for risotto, but it's finished in a sauté pan with a little broth.
Beef and pork are grill-marked when ordered, then finished in a 500-degree oven. Chicken? Most of the dishes I've cooked or seen cooked get seared in a sauté pan, then held and put in the oven. If the food is finished before the guest is ready to eat, it's held in warm place and flashed later. (Pan juices can be added to keep it from drying out.)
Fish seems to be the exception. It cooks so quickly that we have been cooking it a la minute (at time or serving - at the last minute).
I understand why the extensive prep is necessary. I know precautions are taken to keep the food safe while it sits. I'm just a bit disillusioned.