I’VE STILL GOT SO MUCH TO LEARN

LAU­REN TAY­LOR MEETS MICHE­LIN STAR CHEF TOMMY BANKS AS HE PUB­LISHES HIS FIRST COOK­BOOK, ROOTS

Western Mail - - FOOD & DRINK -

FOR a chef who be­came Britain’s youngest to earn a Miche­lin star at the age of 24, and tri­umphed twice on BBC2’s Great Bri­tish Menu, Tommy Banks is re­mark­ably self-ef­fac­ing.

“I’ve still got so much to learn,” he says. “I don’t think I’m a par­tic­u­larly ad­vanced cook.”

Many would dis­agree. Tommy runs the Black Swan in Old­stead, North York­shire, where he’s been from the age of 17 (his par­ents own the pub), and be­came head chef in 2013, re­tain­ing the star it had won under pre­vi­ous head chef, Adam Jack­son. But he felt fraud­u­lent, as if the dishes weren’t his.

Fast for­ward five years and Tommy has gained a name for him­self for his own in­ven­tive com­bi­na­tions – he prefers the term “mak­ing it all up as I go along” to ‘self-taught’ – us­ing lo­cal pro­duce and dis­play­ing them as though ex­quis­ite pieces of art on the plate.

The Black Swan was voted the world’s best restau­rant on TripAd­vi­sor in Oc­to­ber 2017 and, now, it’s al­ways packed.

“Do peo­ple achieve things and man­age to bask in it? I don’t know if I’m dif­fer­ent,” he won­ders, on the pub­li­ca­tion of his first cook­book, Roots.

“When­ever I achieve some­thing, there’s also some­thing else we’ve got to do.”

Per­haps his feet are firmly on the ground be­cause it hasn’t al­ways been easy.

“Run­ning a busi­ness in a ru­ral place is re­ally tough, it strug­gled,” he ad­mits. Aged 18, Tommy also be­came very ill with ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, had surgery and spent a year re­cov­er­ing.

“Win­ning Great Bri­tish Menu was mas­sive for my self­con­fi­dence. Be­fore that, I thought what I was do­ing was good, but no one else had re­ally (ex­pe­ri­enced) it, be­cause we were this tiny restau­rant and we were quite quiet,” says the 28-year-old.

He also ad­mits that he was “pet­ri­fied and ex­tremely anx­ious” go­ing into the show, and how odd it was to be recog­nised af­ter­wards.

Now he’s on the other side of things, af­ter this year’s MasterChef fi­nal­ists spent a day cook­ing with him.

Tommy grew up on the farm his fam­ily still run in the “idyl­lic” ru­ral North York Moors.

As a re­sult, his food is com­pletely dic­tated by what’s grown on the farm, so hum­ble Bri­tish (or more specif­i­cally, York­shire) veg al­ways takes cen­tre stage, whether it’s a beet­root steak cooked in beef fat, a main­stay at the Black Swan, or in desserts like cel­ery leaf par­fait.

Any meat he uses won’t be farmed far away ei­ther.

“My menus are de­signed around what we’ve got com­ing in,” Tommy says.

“I’d never ap­proach it like, ‘I want to do a duck dish’. It’s more like, ‘I’ve got cele­riac, what are we go­ing to do with it this year?”’

The book is a real cel­e­bra­tion of na­ture and his home­land.

“Ev­ery­thing I’ve done over the last 10 years is doc­u­mented in there, ev­ery­thing I’ve learned and come up with.”

It’s true – Roots cov­ers ev­ery­thing from sim­ple fam­ily recipes, like his grandma’s ap­ple cake, to ad­vanced cook­ing tech­niques where you’ll need a wa­ter bath and a vac­uum seal to recre­ate some of the dishes from his Miche­lin star restau­rant.

He also wants to dis­pel some of the mis­con­cep­tions around ‘sea­sonal’ eat­ing. “When I started grow­ing pro­duce, I re­alised there aren’t re­ally four sea­sons in the UK from a culi­nary per­spec­tive, be­cause we lit­er­ally have noth­ing ready in Jan­uary to April, and most of May, de­pend­ing on the weather.”

Roots re­flects the farm­ing sea­sons and is split into three sec­tions – the hunger gap (Jan­uary to May), time of abun­dance (June to Septem­ber) and the pre­serv­ing sea­son (Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber).

The hunger gap (the “most chal­leng­ing” of the sea­sons) is a time for hum­ble onions and wild gar­lic to re­ally shine, as well as jerusalem ar­ti­chokes, York­shire rhubarb (“the best in the world”) and some for­aged in­gre­di­ents most won’t have cooked with be­fore – spruce, lo­vage and fir.

The first five months of the year also in­spire his dishes that play with savoury and sweet – think ar­ti­choke fudge or scal­lops in rhubarb juice.

The easy-to-make John Dory with young veg­eta­bles and lemon ver­bena stock, mean­while, is per­fect for sum­mer – the sea­son of plenty.

The tail-end of the year, with its earthy, irony veg like cele­riac (se­ri­ously un­der­rated ac­cord­ing to Tommy) and beet­root, is the time for pre­serv­ing by fer­ment­ing or ‘clamp­ing’, a process com­mon dur­ing war ra­tioning where tops are re­moved, roots buried in soil and kept in a cold, dry, dark place.

As for what’s next for the young chef, Tommy says: “I’d cer­tainly like to do more TV.”

If you want to try his food with­out the Miche­lin star prices, he’s also an­nounced a sec­ond restau­rant open­ing this sum­mer, Roots York, which will have a “fun, in­for­mal” feel.

■ Roots by Tommy Banks is pub­lished by Seven Di­als, priced £25.

Tommy for­ag­ing for in­gre­di­ents

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