Tony Tobin is up for the chop

Kitchen diaries: Surrey Life's celebrity chef Tony Tobin gets technical

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2009Kitchen diaries: Surrey Life's celebrity chef Tony Tobin gets technicalIn my time writing this column, I've tended to stick to the food side of food (if you get my drift...). We've looked at diet, ingredients, meat, fish, veg and desserts - the raw materials that go into beautiful food. Last month, however, was a bit of a departure. The humble crockpot emerged as the hero of the column and it got me thinking. There's a myriad of interesting tools that chefs use and many of them are things of beauty. I suspect the majority of my dear readers are as proud of their Japanese knife blocks and Gaggia coffee machines as they are of the food on the plates when they hold a dinner party. And why not? Good kit shows you're taking it seriously. A lot of this pride comes from what trend analysts call the 'cult of the pro-am'. This is where people who are enthusiastic amateurs seek to raise their game by acquiring the same tools of the trade that their professional heroes use. I'm sure most of you will remember the incredible rush to buy a particular omelette pan when Delia recommended it a few years back. I suspect that there are two sides to this desire. First, people want to feel that the only differences left between themselves and TV chefs are skills and vision. Equipment is something they can overcome by splashing out - and they don't intend to be held back by dodgy pans or chopping boards. Second, it's also great fun to appear to be an initiated member of the elite in the eyes of dinner guests or competitors (you know: 'Oh, the blowtorch, it's the one Heston uses...'). Sadly, the truth is that no matter how beautiful your ceramic pans, how ingenious your oven and how effective your silicon garlic peeler, it will only make a smidgeon of difference. Only a well-trained palate, dexterity, food knowledge, timing and a real grasp of culinary techniques that will make you into a really great chef. But for this month... and this month only... I'm going to indulge the pro-ams among you. Let's go gadget mad and start with the alpha males of the kitchen - the knives. Living on a knife edge You have to have good knives. There's not a dish I've cooked that doesn't need some sort of knife in the preparation. As a minimum, you'll need a small paring knife for small precision work like fine chopping shallots, a serrated knife for bread and cutting pies with delicate fillings and a large chef's knife (8-10 inch blade) for fast vegetable chopping. My preference remains stainless steel. I know there's a big fuss about ceramic knives and they are superbly sharp but for me an all-in-one stainless steel knife from a manufacturer like Fri is the way to go. It's about the balance and feel as much as the sharpness because using a good ceramic sharpening tool can get you a hair-splitting edge in a minute or two. My recommendation would be to go to a good cookshop and handle a few. See how they feel and try one out with a recalcitrant onion. Next, the whizzers and blitzers. No, not Santa's reindeer but food processors that can give you an extra 20 minutes in the run-up to a dinner party. I've had many blitzers and used scores more in different kitchens but my favourite to date is the JML Power Blitzer. It spins its blades as fast as a F1 car engine and looks fantastic, too. You just put the business end into your bowl and nanoseconds later the job's done. Finally - and this is a bit more architectural than a simple paring knife - refrigerated drawers. I know, sounds a bit flash... but once you've had them, you can never go back. The problem with most fridges is that a big tall box isn't the best way to keep different shaped foods and dishes cold. A refrigerated drawer on the other hand is an ergonomic miracle, especially for dinner parties where you need to have lots of ramekins and salads ready and cold. Hotpoint do them so don't think you have to go to a Bond Street kitchen specialist. Now, before you go and do some serious damage on your credit cards, remember what I said above... if you want to be a better chef then you need to read, practise and taste. There are no substitutes. If however you're comfortable with your cooking skills but you want your dinner party guests to go green with 'I-want-one-of-those' envy, then you have my permission to go and buy some toys! For my recipe this month, I'm choosing something that you can try out some of your new culinary gadgets on. It's a simple but really unusual recipe using pork, liquorice and ginger. Perhaps not to everyone's taste but once tried, never forgotten...

Tony Tobin's roasted pork fillet with liquorice and ginger (serves 2)Ingredients

2 x 200g pork fillets 1 small piece of liquorice stick ground to a powder 1 inch piece of fresh ginger Olive oil 1 clove garlic 1 black liquorice stick 100ml balsamic vinegar 1 lemon


Place the liquorice powder and fresh ginger, clove of garlic and a little olive oil into a coffee grinder and blitz to a puree. Season the pork fillet with salt and rub all over with the liquorice mixture and leave to marinate for one hour. Heat in a pan with a little oil and fry on all sides. Place the meat in the oven for 15 minutes turning once. Remove from oven and allow to rest in a warm place. Roughly chop the black liquorice and put into a pan with the balsamic vinegar, bring to the boil and gently simmer until vinegar thickens. Strain through a fine sieve. Slice pork into thin slices and drizzle with the liquorice vinegar. Serve with your favourite potatoes.

Tony Tobin has been a regular on the BBC's Ready Steady Cook for over a decade and runs two acclaimed restaurants in Surrey: The Dining Room in Reigate and POST in Banstead.

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