WHEN Nelson Hind Chef of the Year Simon Blunt puts turbot on the menu, 90% of his customers choose it. "It's always popular because it's different to other fish they might be used to," says Blunt. "They don't go for watery fish, such as plaice; they like turbot because it's meaty."
Blunt is head chef in charge of senior management and directors' dining at the Norwich Union headquarters at Surrey House, Norwich, a contract Nelson Hind has held since 1995.
Turbot is also a personal favourite of Blunt, which is why he enjoys creating new recipes using it as the main ingredient. His latest creation, poached turbot with baby leeks and scallop ravioli, has been a hit with customers, with up to 20 covers being served a day.
"It's a bit fiddly but I enjoy doing it," says Blunt, who is assisted in the kitchen by a second chef and a general assistant. "The ravioli dough is time-consuming, but we make that up the day before and leave it in the fridge.
"The morning preparation is straightforward: when the scallops arrive in the morning, we make up the ravioli and blanch it, and the fillets are taken off the fish and portioned up. It's the last half-hour that is a rush, when the fish is poached in stock and the ravioli reheated."
Blunt, who has previously worked at Gravetye Manor in East Grinstead, Hartwell House in Aylesbury and the Bell Inn at Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, first introduced turbot to the menu when he took on his present role nearly two years ago.
He was promoted after he had spent 15 months in the main kitchen which caters for up to 2,200 Norwich Union staff a day from Monday to Friday.
"I wanted to bring more quality to the menu and, although ingredients such as turbot are more expensive, it has paid off," he explains.
Menus run in six-week cycles and include a choice of four starters, seven main courses including one vegetarian dish, and two desserts.
Starters tend to be salads because the customers prefer lighter dishes at lunchtime, although smoked game or duck does make an appearance from time to time. Fish is always a popular main course, because it is light. Besides the turbot, Blunt offers dishes such as pan-fried red mullet with a medley of vegetables. Alternatives to fish include chump of lamb with couscous, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, or a roast such as baby chicken.
Meals are served in five private dining rooms and six conference rooms by three dining staff, and the service provided ranges from finger buffets and cold buffets to three-course hot lunches. Covers vary from two to 60 each day. n