Surrey Life's celebrity chef Tony Tobin sets the record straight on a few food myths

Why should take these things with a pinch of salt...

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2010

Our celebrity chef Tony Tobin sets the record straight on a few food myths


When you’re a chef on TV, I can assure you it is very different from being a sports star or a rock musician (and not just in the salary stakes!).

However, there’s one common experience I bet we share. When people meet us, they usually want to ask us their ‘big question’ about our field of expertise.

In the days when the late, great George Best used to visit us at The Dining Room in Reigate, people would always drift over to his table and say things like: “My uncle used to know Norman Whiteside and said he was actually lovely...” or “I think Rooney is over-rated” or “Do you think Pel� was the best ever?” To the latter, he would often reply, “No, I was the best ever.” But George was always prepared to listen because he recognised that his comments would probably enable that person to dine out for years to come. “Do you know, I once met George Best and he said to me....”

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For me, these sorts of conversations obviously tend to be about cooking. And utensils. And – strangely enough – separating sauces. I’ve spent most of my adult life in restaurants and I reckon that four times out of five when I emerge from the kitchen and meet a new diner, the first question will be: “I’ve heard that xyz ‘magical’ pan is the best for making a roux. Do you think they’re any good?” or “How do you stop a B�arnaise sauce from separating?” and “Can you restore it if it does?” Other times, people have a ‘secret ingredient’ or unusual method for making a key recipe that they want my opinion on.

As a result of all this, I have probably heard just about every food and cooking myth known to man. So, this month, as we all prepare to drift from summer into autumn and we’re in a bit of an in-between time recipe-wise, I thought it might be fun to play a little true or false!

Searing meat before cooking locks in the juices...Searing meat in a pan definitely helps contain the juices but actually pales in importance compared with letting meat or poultry rest after its come out of the oven. I recommend at least 10 minutes and longer for larger joints. If you cut into meat before letting it rest, then you can sear to your heart’s content and it won’t make it any juicier.

Adding oil to the water before cooking pasta keeps it from sticking...Now this isn’t a myth, it actually works. Unfortunately, it has another consequence: it stops the sauce from binding with the pasta properly and thus will turn a potentially delicious pasta dish into something far less satisfactory.

Don’t worry about the alcohol content of cooking; it burns off...This is a dangerous myth. We’ve all tried those hand sanitisers and felt the alcohol evaporate in seconds. The same is not true of wine, Madeira or spirits used in cooking. Get this one wrong and you could find yourself without a driving licence! If you simmer a sauce containing wine for 20 minutes, up to 50 per cent of the alcohol can stick around. A flamb�  burns off less than you think and baking very little at all!

Adding salt to the water when cooking veg is unhealthy... Recent scientific studies have shown that putting salt into the water when boiling veg can actually help to retain more of the nutrients within the food you are cooking and prevent them from leaching into the water. Also, only a tiny amount of the salt actually remains on the food. The biggest danger to your health from salt doesn’t come from seasoning food or cooking in salted water but from processed foods where fat, sugar and salt are combined to taste apparently ‘delicious’ when the content is actually... well... rubbish.

Eating after 7pm makes you put on weight...Along with the Atkins diet and all sorts of other popular ‘weight loss’ techniques, this one doesn’t have much grounding in reality and is more likely to be the result of other factors. Your body burns food the same no matter when you eat it. Good food in moderation combined with regular exercise will keep your weight under control regardless of what time it is. I think those who don’t eat late tend to take care of their diet anyway, so it’s the overall effect that results in the weight loss.

Never wash a bread knife on a Sunday It will bring you bad luck...Okay, so more of a superstition, but personally I know that bad hygiene is more likely to bring you bad luck than anything else when cooking. Keep your utensils, surfaces and chopping boards clean and have different boards for raw meat, cooked meat, fish, veg and bread!

Once a B�arnaise sauce has separated, throw it away...  Now, here’s one you can dine out on: two ways of rescuing a separated B�arnaise sauce! Either take it off the heat, put in a teaspoon of double cream and stir vigorously, or else start a new B�arnaise with one room temperature egg yolk and then mix in the separated mixture slowly until it is all pukka again.

So, next time you come in to see me, you can refrain from asking me about a food myth and instead let’s just talk about the foods we love. Get me on this subject and you’ll never get me off it... in fact, you’ll want to stop before I do!

Tony Tobin is executive chef at The Dining Room in Reigate (01737 226650).