Here’s some food for thought … Britain’s Youngest Michelin-starred chef in 2013 (age 24), won the Great British Menu in 2016 and 2017, Chef Director of Roots York and Yorkshire’s Michelin-starred Black Swan (awarded Best Restaurant in the UK 2018 by the Food and Travel magazine, Best Fine Dining Restaurant in the World 2017 by Trip Advisor). Oh and he’s the co-host of the BBC’s The Big Family Cooking Showdown. It’s a true family affair for Tommy Banks who works alongside his parents Anne and Tom, brother James, plus close family friend Matthew Lockwood. Carolyn Nicoll found out what’s cooking?
I was incredibly lucky to grow up on a Yorkshire farm, spending a lot of time outside, always around nature and amazing produce, which has really helped me as a chef. The funny thing is, I wasn’t that interested in cooking to start with. My parents ran a B&B at home on the farm and I helped out to earn a bit of money so I could play sport as much as possible, particularly cricket. They then bought the Black Swan, pretty much at exactly the same time I left school, so I started working for them, but with no intention of really being a chef. I ended up doing more work in the kitchen and it went from there, with no formal training, just a love of the local produce, devouring cookery books and learning on the job. I'm still a massive cricket fan though, so it's cricket first, then cooking, but cricket doesn't pay the wages for me. Perhaps in a different life and if I'd been a better player, I would have loved to have been a professional cricketer.
Home is Oldstead, a tiny village on the edge of the North York Moors National Park, it’s where I grew up and where I still live today. I love it. The place is beautiful, really peaceful and quiet. I have such a strong connection with this part of the world and feel that it’s actually quite a spiritual home for me.
I feel lucky to work with so many fantastic Yorkshire businesses, the list is endless. There’s a whole network of amazing, small producers and companies in the county, and without them we wouldn’t be able to keep our restaurants going. Being able to get great meat from R&J butchers in Kirkby Malzeard, to being able to pick up local produce like freshly picked asparagus from Spilmans, and fresh, raw milk from Cow Corner, both in Thirsk, to collaborations with distilleries like Cooper King over in Sutton-on-the-Forest, it’s crucial for the business to have such quality on the doorstep.
The coronavirus crisis has had a huge impact on work and everyday life in general. Not only has the usual daily routine massively changed, but it’s also meant that we’ve unfortunately had to close both our restaurants – the Black Swan at Oldstead and also Roots York. It’s had an impact on all of us, my parents, brother James and the whole team, we’re all part of it. However, the situation has forced us to diversify our business. We launched our Made In Oldstead Food Boxes, which include two freshly-made three course meals for two people, oven ready and delivered right to your door. It’s been incredibly successful, but we have had to adapt very quickly to a very different way of working. Getting it off the ground has been a big task and incredibly time-consuming. The idea is to take the food boxes nationwide, we’re aiming for this to happen imminently, so check in for the latest details. My team and I have also enjoyed cooking meals for the incredible staff at York Hospital, it’s been a real honour to visit and to be able to help in a small way with everything that’s going on.
At the moment my day starts on the farm, or in the restaurant garden, as there’s always so much to do there. I then head to an industrial kitchen unit we’ve taken on, this is where we produce our food boxes as we’ve closed our restaurant kitchens, plus there’s more space for the team to work and to social distance. Doing this has allowed us to get colleagues back working full-time which is brilliant. I spend most of my day up there cooking, and managing everything that’s going on.
The restaurants are the biggest projects I’m missing at the moment. I was also really excited and looking forward to cooking at Lord’s Cricket Ground London this year, my love of cricket again, but unfortunately it’s not happening. This year would also have been my first time as Patron of Malton Food Lovers Festival, which is an annual celebration of Yorkshire's finest produce and cooking, also known as Yorkshire's Foodie Glastonbury! It’s such a fantastic event in the Yorkshire food calendar, but has had to be put on hold for the foreseeable future. Although look out for it because it’ll definitely be worth coming along to and being a part of when it does happen.
It’s quite hard to find the positives in what is such a tragic time for our industry, but it really has shown me the goodwill of people. We’ve had such a supportive response from our team members with the whole procedure of closing the restaurants, and of course, the great support from our guests too with their well-wishes and purchases of food boxes.
My work inspiration comes from so many places, but mainly from travelling around, seeing what’s going on and chatting with people, but also from our top team, including the fantastic and talented chefs that I work with every day.
I’ve been enjoying BBQing as much as I possibly can, just a simple steak and asparagus with hollandaise sauce is a real treat. The weather has been really good, which is so fortunate and allows for some great outdoor dining.
When life gets back to some sort of normality, I cannot wait to get both of the restaurants open again, and to welcome all of our lovely guests back. My fiancé Charlotte and I were also due to get married this year, but we’ve had to rearrange it, so of course I’m very much looking forward to that!
My perfect Yorkshire day out would be going to the coast, the Yorkshire seaside, visiting a nice, long beach like Hunmanby Gap in Filey. Then drive back across the moors, stopping at a pub en route for good fish and chips and a pint.
Fancy trying one of Tommy's recipes at home? Check out his Wild Garlic Capers here.
This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – June 2020. To view the full magazine, click here