Self-proclaimed perfectionist Melissa Menns tells how she juggles a demanding job as head chef at Birmingham Hippodrome with being a wife and mother
Tell us about your cooking
I like to cook fresh delicious food that’s seasonal and colourful. I’m really passionate about flavours and high quality produce.
How did you become a chef?
I always enjoyed cooking. I started baking when I was five and was cooking family dinners by age 10. I had a passion for creating amazing flavours, so why not do it every day for a living? I joined the Hippodrome as a sous chef and was quickly promoted to head chef, so I’m now responsible for everything from menu creation right through to health and safety.
What do you eat when at home?
I love Caribbean food so when I’m home those are my go-to dishes. My top meals are Caribbean steam fish with vegetables and curried mutton.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
There are too many to name. I couldn’t possibly whittle the long list down to just one. So many chefs have contributed to this industry in completely different ways. It’s not about the accolades for me or even how well known they are, it’s about their contribution. But if I definitely had to pick it would be my mom! No one’s food is better.
Is the customer always right?
You can’t deny someone’s opinion, everyone is entitled to one, but that doesn’t mean that I have to agree. I want my customers to leave happy so if there’s something I can do to make their visit more enjoyable I will.
Share a cooking tip
Adding an onion to most dishes will change your life!
What was your favourite food as a kid?
My mom’s dinners, all of them. She’s an amazing cook.
Food heaven and hell?
I tasted food heaven when I was in Jamaica and went to one of the local restaurants. They served the most amazing curried lobster with roti. Anything that’s bland and has no flavour is my idea of food hell!
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
I had cooked snails, or escargot, once and let’s just say I’m not in a hurry to try them again but it wasn’t particularly unpleasant.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
A surgeon, something completely different from what I do now.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
The Keralan spiced cod. An authentic take on South Asian cuisine, with trademark Hippodrome style.
MELISSA’S TARKA DAL & KERALAN SPICED COD
FOR THE TARKA DAL:
- 250g yellow split lentils
- 7g cumin seeds
- 250g onion fine dice
- 4 green chillies split
- 30g ginger julienne
- 15g crushed garlic
- 2g turmeric
- 2g garam masala
- 3.5g ground coriander
- ¼ bunch coriander
- 150g butter
- 750g water
First, wash the lentils until water runs clear. Then pick fresh coriander leaves but make sure you save the stalks. Chop this all up finely. Fry cumin seeds in a little oil until fragrant, or they start to pop. Add the onions, ginger, green chilli, garlic and spices and sweat it all until the onions are nice and golden. Add lentils to the water and boil uncovered until water is fully absorbed.
FOR THE COD:
- Keralan spice
- 2 tsp cloves
- 2tsp cardamom
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 star anise
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp pepper
- 5 cod loins
Crush all the spices together in a pestle and mortar to a fine powder. Then add a little water to form a nice smooth paste. Rub onto the cod loin and marinate for 20 minutes. Once complete, place the cod on a lightly oiled tray and bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 175°C.
To serve spread a generous amount of the dal on a plate and place the cod on top. Finish with a sprinkle of fresh coriander.