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Surrey Life's resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin is heaven scent

PUBLISHED: 13:30 10 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:13 20 February 2013

Surrey Life's resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin is heaven scent

Surrey Life's resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin is heaven scent

PLUS: How to cook the perfect Roast guineafowl with stuffing

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2010

Surrey Life's resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin is heaven scent. PLUS: how to cook the perfect roast guineafowl with stuffing

One of the most popular TV programmes at the moment is apparently The Dog Whisperer. Its like a modern day Barbara Woodhouse but with the wonderful Mexican Dr Doolittle, Cesar Milan. Cesar has this uncanny ability to tame dogs that come to the programme afflicted by all manner of personality disorders and behavioural problems. Fans of the show will know that his biggest problem is never actually their dogs its their owners.

Cesars simple rule is that dogs must recognise their owners as calm, assertive pack leaders. Usually the dog runs the household at the beginning and by the end the human is running it once again. His ability to control dogs through non-verbal communication basically exuding leadership through every pore is uncanny. Maybe the dogs smell something? He tells us on every show that a dogs senses have a strict hierarchy: smell first, sound second, sight third.

This got me thinking (it actually got me sniffing, but Ill save that for now!). Were often told that as humans smell is the sense tied closest to memory, it can trigger recall in a more primal way than any other sense. So the smell of floor polish can conjure up vivid memories of primary school assemblies or cloakrooms and the niff of fresh cut grass can cast us back to childhood holidays. Bonfires, wet dogs, old wardrobes, tweed, leather... They are all olfactory time machines.

I couldnt agree more and it was these nose-centred thoughts that gave me the subject for this months column: food aromas. Naturally, Im spoiled as a chef. I get to spend virtually every day in the company of wonderful smells but I can assure you that this hasnt dulled the experience for me. If Im walking past a house with an open window and catch the wafting aroma of a Sunday roast or the unmistakable whiff of a good strong curry, I find it hard not to pause and hoover up as many of those aromatic molecules as my nostrils will allow.

On the house
The other people who know this only too well are the producers of those daytime sell-your-grotty-house-by-making-it-lovely-in-two-days shows. The final touch is always the exploitation of the irresistible smell factor to trigger buyers reactions and so extract monetary gain. You know the sort of thing: the cushions have been plumped, the flock wallpaper torn off the walls and replaced with neutral creams, mirrors everywhere to make it look bigger and lighter... Then comes the icing on the cake. A bunch of sweet-smelling lilies, fresh ground coffee and baking bread. Or, just a capful of vanilla essence in a warm oven.

The smell of hearty meats cooking or freshly baked bread and croissants is like a magnet for the senses we are drawn into hungry mode within nanoseconds and our palates moisten as surely as the bell got Pavlovs dog drooling.

Some people even advocate a diet thats a contender in the weird-but-effective category. You eat lots of veg and fruit but supplement this by smelling foods that you love. Im not quite sure how youre meant to have the willpower to smell frying bacon and the tang of HP sauce and not take the obvious step of sticking them into a white bread sandwich but there we are.

Apparently, the people who sell hot dogs and burgers at fairs know that the smell of frying onions also casts a very wide aroma net. A mound of thinly sliced onions caramelising on a griddle can start reeling people in from over half a mile away. The nose seems to speak to the stomach directly. It doesnt go through the switchboard of the brain!

If you are entertaining, this is a top tip. There are foods that give off very little smell but taste fabulous fish is a case in point but if youre inviting people into your home and want to wow them, omit the smell factor at your peril. A wonderful aroma drifting in from the kitchen will make them hungry, it will get their taste buds twitching, their gastric juices flowing and it will seal the whole experience in their memories for much longer.

Ive never seen Cesar Milan cooking but I bet when he does, he knows (nose! ho ho) these tricks and uses them as confidently in the kitchen as he does when setting an errant bull mastiff on the right path. For the rest of us, Ive included opposite a dish that packs in tastes and aromas in spades. Just make sure that none of your guests have a cold!

  • Tony Tobin ishead chef at The Dining Room in Reigate (01737 226650).

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