CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Backstage at Ready Steady Cook with Tony Tobin

PUBLISHED: 21:06 14 May 2012 | UPDATED: 14:52 20 February 2013

Ainsley Harriott and Tony Tobin enjoying Surrey Life in the Ready Steady Cook kitchen

Ainsley Harriott and Tony Tobin enjoying Surrey Life in the Ready Steady Cook kitchen

In a special edition of his popular column, resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin takes us backstage at the BBC's hit TV show, Ready Steady Cook, on which he has been appearing for over a decade, revealing a few of the show's secrets along the way

This month, I thought I would take Surrey Life readers behind the scenes at RSC - and I'm not talking about the Royal Shakespeare Company. No, it's far more dramatic than that! I'm talking, of course, about the BBC's Ready Steady Cook.

I first appeared on RSC when I was 29. I had recently been appointed head chef at the Dining Room in Reigate and my chance came when I struck up conversation with a fellow guest at a wedding who obviously knew his food and restaurants inside out. He turned out to own the company that produces RSC and asked me if I'd be interested in having a go. When I said yes, he asked me when he could turn up at the Dining Room with a bag of surprise ingredients to put me to the test! Luckily, it wasn't a difficult bag; I kept my cool and chatted away, he was impressed and nearly 13 years later I'm still there.

Now, there are two questions that everyone who watches the show wants to know: 1) Is it really a surprise when you open the ingredients bag or are you told beforehand? And 2) Is Ainsley really that nice? Both are easy.

First, none of the chefs on the programme have any idea what is in the bag - and if I had a pound for every time I've been asked that question then there would be many more Tony Tobin restaurants out there! It is a genuine challenge. Personally, I always long for fish when I open it because the RSC kitchens have plenty of oils and dressing ingredients that can be used to tart up a piece of fish. It is also one of the quickest ingredients to prepare. To get technical for a second, the reason it can be cooked much faster than meat is that it contains no elastins. As a result, you only have to cook fish long enough to 'set' the proteins rather than to tenderise it, as you do with any other meat. So if you're doing a dinner party and know you'll be pressed for time, pan-fry some fish. Easy.

Second, Ainsley really is one of the nicest blokes you could ever hope to meet. He is exactly as he appears and he took me under his wing when I was a newbie on RSC for which I'll always be grateful. I've learned lots about food and cooking from him but the most important thing he taught me early on was how to talk and cook at the same time. Sounds silly but lots of great chefs just can't do TV because they need to concentrate to produce great food. To hold an audience while chopping, frying, mixing and mashing takes a bit of practice but it's also something wannabe chefs need to do well at dinner parties. No-one has a really great evening when the chef is silent putting together his magnum opus! Better to go for something simpler and chat with your guests.

Finally, before moving on to this month's reader question, I have to say that RSC may look friendly - and all the chefs are great friends - but deep down each of us really really wants to win. There's no silver medal in competitive cooking so if you ever see me crack a smile when I haven't won, it doesn't go very deep.

So, this month's Surrey Life reader question comes from R Giles of Reigate, who says: "We have an ongoing dispute in our household over whether you can eat the skin of aubergines or whether it is poisonous - can you advise? Also, do you have any ideas for a nice recipe using aubergines?" The easy answers are no and yes! Aubergine skins aren't poisonous but, to be edible, aubergines have to be cooked well. Chefs love them for the deep purple colour but there is no 'flash in the pan' cooking technique for an aubergine. Give them plenty of baking, frying or stewing time or you may find it's your last dinner party. My favourite aubergine recipe is a Turkish dish called Imam Biyaldi. To make it, cut four medium onions into thin slices, brown them in olive oil with four cloves of peeled garlic. Add two large chopped tomatoes and cook on medium heat until the onions are done. Then slice four medium aubergines in half length-ways. Put the slices into a separate pan with some oil and fry on a medium heat until lightly browned. Arrange them side by side in a baking dish. Slice a cut in the middle and insert a filling (spicy lamb works well) into each half-aubergine and top this with slices of a green pepper. Sprinkle salt and sugar on top. Then add a little water on top of the filling until it just covers it and starts to soak in. Place in a hot oven uncovered until cooked, then remove the dish and let it cool a little before serving. Delicious!

  • Tony Tobin has been a regular on the BBC's Ready Steady Cook for over a decade, competing on the show over 200 times. He has also hosted shows for the Carlton Food Channel and is a favourite at major events such as The Ideal Home Show. He runs two acclaimed restaurants in Surrey: The Dining Room in Reigate and POST in Banstead.

What do you want to do next?

Have your say on the Surrey Life Forums
Find out what is going on behind the scenes on the Editor's blog
Read the latest Surrey Life articles
Find your dream property with
Look for your next career with
Read the FREE
Surrey Life digital archives
Find and list Surrey businesses in our Life Directory
Subscribe to the magazine
Check out the latest
reader offers and competitions

More from Surrey Life

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Surrey is full of secret hideaways and hidden gems. Slades Farm on the Wintershall Estate is definitely one of them

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Monday, November 12, 2018

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (16, 17 and 18 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We are regularly reminded of the high cost of housing with statistics revealing that only one in three millennials will be able to afford their own home during their lifetime and that most will remain in the category known as Generation Rent

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search