The hum­ble chef go­ing back to his roots for food ideas

York­shire’s Tommy Banks is only 28 but al­ready has a Miche­lin star and two Great Bri­tish Menu ti­tles. As he re­leases his first book, he tells Lau­ren Tay­lor how he comes up with his won­der­fully unique dishes

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - FOOD -

For a chef who be­came the youngest in Bri­tain to earn a Miche­lin star, at the age of 24, and twice tri­umphed on BBC Two show 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. Banks runs the Black Swan in Old­stead, north York­shire, where he’s been from the age of 17 (his par­ents own the pub). He 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 Banks has gained a name for him­self with his own in­ven­tive com­bi­na­tions — he prefers the phrase “mak­ing it all up as I go along” to ‘self-taught’ — us­ing lo­cal pro­duce and dis­play­ing them on the plate as though they were ex­quis­ite pieces of art.

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

“Do peo­ple achieve things and man­age to bask in it? I don’t know if I’m dif­fer­ent,” Tommy won­ders on the pub­li­ca­tion of his first cook­book, Roots. “When­ever I achieve some­thing, there’s also some­thing else 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, Banks also be­came very ill with ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, had surgery and spent a year re­cov­er­ing. “Win­ning Great Bri­tish Menu was mas­sive for my self-con­fi­dence. 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, who ad­mits he was “pet­ri­fied and ex­tremely anx­ious” go­ing into the show and says it was odd to be recog­nised after­wards.

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

The book is a 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,” he says. And it’s true — Roots is so com­pre­hen­sive it cov­ers

ev­ery­thing from sim­ple fam­ily recipes, like his grandma’s ap­ple cake, to cook­ing tech­niques where you’ ll need a wa­ter bath and a vac­uum seal to recre­ate some of the dishes on his Miche­lin star menu.

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.”

It’s only nat­u­ral then that his cook­book re­flects the farm­ing sea­sons rather than the four sea­sons we all know. It’s split into three sec­tions — the hunger gap (Jan­uary to May), time of abun­dance (June to Septem­ber) and the pre­serv­ing sea­son (Oc­to­ber to De­cem­ber).

So what’s next for the young chef? “I’d cer­tainly like to do more TV,” he says. And if you want to try his food with­out the Miche­lin star prices, he’s just an­nounced a sec­ond restau­rant open­ing this sum­mer, Roots York.

Roots, by Tommy Banks, pub­lished by Seven Di­als, £25

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