Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs, meaning "put in place") is the French term for the components of each dish on the menu. When designing the menu, the head chef breaks down each dish into the parts that can be prepared ahead of time, the mise. The advanced cooking frees the cooks to do very little at the last minute. During service, good mise, or tons of prep, also allows the cooks to handle many orders at one time.
A dish of grilled beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and green beans requires mere moments to serve. For prep, the grill cook will blanch the night's beans in one batch. Likewise he'll mash tens of pounds of potatoes and keep them warm. If he knows service is going to be really hectic, he might even "sear off" a dozen tenderloins -- char them on the outside, but leave them rare on the inside. When an order comes, the grill cook will toss one of the tenderloins into a hot oven to bring it to the requested degree of doneness, then warm the beans in some shallots and butter. He'll pipe the potatoes through a pastry bag for a nice presentation. Two minutes of work at most.
Here is a list of other mise en place possibilities.
Sauces and condiments: Hollandaise, salsa verde, ginger-mango compote and the like can all be made ahead of time in large batches and heated to order or served at room temperature.
Vegetables: Green beans, carrots, broccoli and many other vegetables can be blanched and then shocked (plunged into an ice bath to stop their cooking), drained, dried and set aside, then reheated to order.
Mashed potatoes can be cooked and pureed ahead of time and held warm to serve.
Meats: Sauteed or grilled meats can be seared ahead of time and then cooked through to order.
Roasted items can be cooked two-thirds of the way through and finished to order.
Stews can be prepared days ahead and reheated to order.
Starches: Risotto, pasta and rice can be cooked three-quarters of the way and then finished to order -- thrown back into boiling water, or completed with a bit of broth.
Eggs: When a large brunch crowd is expected, eggs can be poached the night before and refrigerated then reheated in hot water.
-- Emily Kaiser