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Tony Tobin - Cooking as nature intended

PUBLISHED: 12:58 28 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:12 20 February 2013

Celebrity chef Tony Tobin

Celebrity chef Tony Tobin

Celebrity chef Tony Tobin explains that you don't have to go to the ends of the earth to eat a healthy and varied diet

Celebrity chef Tony Tobin explains that you don't have to go to the ends of the earth to eat a healthy and varied diet

It's not often you see something on TV that reinvigorates your purpose in life but this month it happened to me. It wasn't a rival chef or a foodie show, but something a little more obscure. Let me explain...

I was watching an amazing documentary on Animal Planet (or one of those other natural world TV channels that pops up after about 30 presses on the remote control). The subject of the programme was the mouse lemurs of Madagascar; furry little critters that go to extraordinary efforts in order to drink the nectar from the giant baobab trees of the island. This intricate operation put the lengths that I go to when assembling dishes in my restaurants into perspective.

Thankfully, I never have to climb 90ft trees and hang precariously while sipping beads of sweet liquid from exotic fruit. Although, that's not to say I wouldn't give it a try if there was a fantastic dessert at the end of it!

A real revelation

The lemurs were astonishing but it was the later revelation that hit me, when it was mentioned in passing during the programme that there is just one poor creature on God's earth that doesn't know what it should eat by instinct. You guessed it - humans! Apparently, every other being on the planet is born with a natural sense of what it should eat to remain alive and healthy. Moreover, most pop into the world with all the knowledge they need to find, prepare (in the broadest sense of the word!) and eat those foods. Animals simply sidle up to either another creature or else a berry or plant, have a shifty into their innate genetic cookbooks to check that they haven't been forbidden this particular morsel, then eat it or reject it. They know that it's not just what they want but also what they need.
Humans are not so fortunate. Left to our own devices, we would have to rely mainly on trial and error (with bouts of poisoning and painful digestive issues along the way) to work out a suitable diet. Even then, we're not equipped with a natural sense of balance. In fact, many of the modern problems with obesity and health stem from the fact that we're faced with such easy supplies of sugar and fat in the modern world; so many people just eat what tastes good to them rather than what is good for them.
Once this revelation had settled into my brain, I suddenly felt a rush of excitement. This was the first evidence I'd ever seen that nature must love a chef! The essential quality in a career chef is striking a perfect balance of ingredients, size and presentation in their meals while also awakening one's guests' palates to new food that they not only can eat, but should eat.

Bring back the pike!

Recently, at POST in Banstead, we served pike in my restaurant on the first floor. Yes, pike! Pike was a popular eating fish in Britain for hundreds of years but it rarely finds its way on to modern plates. In fact, pike is a coarse, meaty and robust - but extremely tasty - fish. Guests at POST who tried it tended to have one of those 'well, I never' moments as the boundaries of their taste buds were stretched a little further.

Again, on TV recently (and please don't get the impression that chefs spend their days watching TV, it's just that it's useful as a wind-down after seven adrenaline-fuelled hours in a hot kitchen!), Gordon Ramsay shot and then cooked rook fillets. Sounds gross, but they are in fact another dish that was once a staple of the Middle Ages diet but has now fallen fowl - sorry, couldn't resist the pun - of our modern, narrowed relationship with food.

My advice this month to readers, therefore, is to enter the summer months with a resolution to broaden that relationship. Try new foods; don't stick with cheap chicken or frozen peas but vary your diet, expand your diet and - most of all - just cook and eat fresh food. Branching out with your food will do more for your health than you'd believe - and you don't even have to climb 90ft into a baobab tree!

This leads nicely on to this month's reader letter, which is from John Brown in Redhill, who writes: "I'm always on the hunt for quick but healthy week night recipes! Any ideas?" As ever, I am spoilt for choice, but check out this month's recipe for my recommendation.

Once again, happy cooking, happy eating and keep the letters coming!

Healthy week night eating

One of the best and easiest ways of providing two or three nights of healthy eating when you haven't got much time is
to base your cooking on couscous. It is available from every supermarket and my friend, Ainsley Harriott, even has his own flavoured range. It takes just a few minutes to prepare using only a kettle of boiling water and, if you make enough, can be stored in the fridge for a few days. You can then supplement it with something different each night. Here is the recipe for the base as well as three interesting variations for later in the week.

Couscous base


  • 200g/7oz couscous
  • 400ml/14 fl oz boiling water
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 1 tbsp red pesto or tapenade
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

  • Boil together the water, chilli, lemon juice
  • and red pesto or tapenade
  • Pour this over the couscous and allow to stand for five minutes
  • Add the chopped herbs, olive oil and season
  • Refrigerate and use when you need it!
Tuesday night
Add honey roasted salmon flakes from M&S and cooked asparagus tips

Wednesday night
Add chopped cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and cress or rocket

Thursday night
Add tinned tuna flakes with lemon and olive oil

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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