CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Entertaining dinner guests - how to stop food faux pas

PUBLISHED: 20:58 14 May 2012 | UPDATED: 14:57 20 February 2013

Surrey Life celebrity chef Tony Tobin

Surrey Life celebrity chef Tony Tobin

Entertaining guests can be an absolute minefield when it comes to food faux pas. This month, our resident celebrity chef, Tony Tobin, explains how to avoid the pitfalls in the latest installment of his Kitchen Diaries

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2007


Entertaining guests can be an absolute minefield when it comes to food faux pas. This month, our resident celebrity chef, Tony Tobin, explains how to avoid the pitfalls in the latest installment of his Kitchen Diaries


SUBSCRIBE to Surrey Life magazine
BUY SL online
DOWNLOAD the app


This month, I start with a joke. One day, a pupil at the school for young balloons is caught waving a pin around. He is marched to the Headmaster Balloon who scolds him seriously saying: "Son, you may have thought it was just high spirits but your actions could have let the whole school down."

I use this particular quip because it always reminds me that something very similar applies to your cooking and entertaining decisions. The legendary chef Nico Ladenis, who I worked with for many years, believed that there are food and wine decisions made in heaven and others that might seem innocuous but are best left in culinary hell - and, if you want the dinner party invitations to keep coming in, it's best to avoid them. Let's look at both sides.

The greatest meals are those where the courses, the main ingredients, the side dishes, the wine and even the crockery, cutlery and napkins all complement each other perfectly. The mantra you will spot me returning to time and again is that simplicity is the key - avoid fuss and avoid over-egging your pudding in every possible sense.

There are only a few real howlers that you should avoid: the worst that any chef can make by far is to poison his or her guests. So my first two tips are simply this: cook meat well and avoid shellfish and molluscs. Oysters and mussels can be wonderful but if a few bad ones sneak through, you can ruin your guests' lives (and your own) for a whole week. And with your meat, remember that only whole single cuts of quality beef and lamb can ever be cooked rare. Never cook burgers pink, no matter how expensive they are. In fact, never cook anything pink if it has been through a mincing process (the one exception being steak tartare, which must be minced by hand from a single piece of fillet).

Fish is more forgiving but there are still some classic booboos. You might think that serving a light red wine with meaty tuna steak is fine. However, if you then squeeze lemon juice over the fish to add some piquancy, it will make any red wine taste... well... horrid. Wine can also suffer if it is served too cold. The key is in the tannins. Heavy, dark, dry reds are rich in tannins, which will jar in the mouth if served cold. With the exception of Gamays and light Beaujolais, which can be served chilled with baked fish or a cold beef salad, red wine should be at room temperature at least and perhaps even a degree or two higher.

Another faux pas is serving fancy dishes on fancy plates. A plate is like a frame and your food should be the art, so always choose white crockery or you risk your signature dish looking like a Jackson Pollock creation when you serve it. In a similar vein, also remember to check your cutlery carefully before you lay the table. I have seen people lift a knife and find a sliver of onion stuck to the underside of the blade because the dishwasher has baked it on rather than washing it off.

There are also seasonal errors of judgement to avoid. The classic is strawberries on a winter menu - something that discerning guests will tut at under their breath. In my view, strawberries should be banned after summer. If you serve them up in November, you may as well show their airline ticket at the same time. We have beautiful fruit and veg in England, so use it when it is at its best and not when the supermarket decides to fly it in from thousands of miles away. Great chefs make it their job to know what is good when. English asparagus in May and June, apple pies at the beginning of autumn, beetroot and sprouts in November and December.

Finally, I will bring the sermon to a close with my best tip of all. The greatest faux pas when entertaining is losing control of time. A great meal has timing at its very heart, so my closing tip: if you're entertaining, always drink less than your guests!

More from Surrey Life

Yesterday, 10:52

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

Read more
Wed, 16:05

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
Tue, 10:53

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

Read more
Tue, 10:47

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
Tue, 10:41

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

Read more
Mon, 14:32

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
Mon, 12:56

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
Mon, 12:13

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
Friday, November 9, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

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

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