the good life

The menu at the Miche­lin-starred Black Swan in York­shire is dic­tated by what is grown in its gar­den (pro­vid­ing the pi­geons don’t get to it first). By Amy Bryant. Pho­to­graphs by In­dia Hob­son

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - THE CUT - black­swanold­

At the end of last month tommy Banks was on our tele­vi­sion screens fran­ti­cally pan-fry­ing turbo tin the kitchen of the All eng­land ten­nis Club. eighty por­tions, cooked at the last minute and served with pick­led straw­ber­ries and a lawn-green chive sauce, to feed Wim­ble­don’s great and good in the fi­nale of BBC two’s Great Bri­tish

Menu. It’s the sec­ond year run­ning that a Banks dish has won a place at the endof-se­ries ban­quet, and this time the 28-year-old was primed for the de­mands of film­ing. ‘You know you’re go­ing to be pulled aside to talk to t he cam­era while your cream is boil­ing over,’ he says. thank­fully the cream sur­vived, the pres­sure was man­age­able and the process was ‘a whole lot of fun’.

Per­haps it’s no sur­prise that Banks is adept at over­com­ing ad­ver­sity. A trou­bling Michel in star, a de­bil­i­tat­ing ill­ness, un­pre­dictable crops and a huge batch of bras sic as rav­aged by lo­cal birds have all played their part in the story of this young chef who has made a suc­cess of grow­ing al­most ev­ery­thing he cook sat his fam­ily’ s res­tau­rant in north York­shire.

the open­ing of the Black Swan, a pretty drovers’ inn at the heart of the even-pret­tier vil­lage of old­stead, had all the mak­ings of ‘a Gor­don Ram­say Kitchen night mare’, Banks tells me. hav­ing taken over the pub in 2006 (a step up from their pre­vi­ous B&B), his par­ents put him and his brother, James, in charge. Aged 17 and 18, Banks re­calls, ‘We had no idea what we were do­ing, and would just in­vite our mates round to get drunk.’ Af­ter a floun­der­ing start and strug­gles with kitchen staff, Banks was put into the kitchen to work un­der the head chef. ‘My dad said, “Well you’ll just have to cook.”’ for the as­pir­ing pro­fes­sional crick­eter, who had ab­so­lutely no ex­pe­ri­ence of cook­ing, be­ing a res­tau­rant chef was not par t of the plan. But nei­ther was be­ing struck with ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, a chronic con­di­tion that saw him un­dergo ma­jor surgery three times and spend the best part of a year in and out of hos­pi­tal. ‘I was very low, but de­ter­mined to make some­thing of my­self, so I de­cided to work all hours to make the res­tau­rant a suc­cess.’

this in­volved build­ing the Black Swan up to be a‘ spe­cial-oc­ca­sion,

The open­ing of the res­tau­rant had all the mak­ings of a ‘Gor­don Ram­say Kitchen Night­mare’

des­ti­na­tion place’, sim­ply be­cause ‘no one would come all the way out here just for a nice pub ’. The food it served, wit h Banks as sous-chef, was clas­sic and French-in­spired (‘ tasty but bor­ing ’); with it, The Black Swan won a Miche­lin star, but Banks was then faced with the chal­lenge of re­tain­ing it af­ter the head chef left to open his own res­tau­rant. He suc­ceeded and, at 24, be­came‘ the youngest Michel in-star chef by ac­ci­dent. To­tally by ac­ci­dent.’

To hear Banks speak can­didly of his em­bar­rass­ment, of hav­ing ‘sup­pos­edly reached the pin­na­cle’ of his ca­reer yet feel­ing that he wasn’t ‘pi­o­neer­ing in any way, or do­ing any­thing amaz­ing or new’, brings home just how much he and his team have achieved over the past four years. For be­hind The Black Swan are two-and-a-half acres of land on which al­most all of the res­tau­rant’ s fruit and vegeta­bles are grown, and just down the road is his par­ents’ farm where back-up beet­root, Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes and pota­toes are drilled–the pro­duce of Banks’ own York­shire story, in­stead of an adopted cui­sine. Tom and Anne Banks had kept Aberdeen An­gus cat­tle when the chil­dren were lit­tle, then moved into arab le crops .‘ I thought, “Where should I get my ideas from ?” My only roots were in farm­ing.’

Banks shows me the bur­geon­ing ter­races of car­rots, ra dishes, turnips and fen­nel, topped by as­para­gus and tailed by straw berries just blush­ing into colour .‘ Say­ing we’d try to cook only with things that we’d grown or for­aged for here pro­moted cre­ativ­ity. Sud­denly you’ve got a whole field of Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes and not much else, so they have to be­come desserts, too .’ A veg­etable fudge, sweet and earthy and not un­like salted caramel, was the an­swer to that curve­ball. Else­where, fruit, herbs and even weeds are made into al­co­hol, con­cen­trated rhubarb juice and acidic-tast­ing wood sor­rel re­place lemon and lime, and the lo­cal spruce is churned into but­ter or used as bar­be­cue skew­ers for fat, juicy lan­goustines. Beet­root is a par­tic­u­larly prized crop, es­pe­cially the tape red, gnarled, to ad-skin-like crap audi ne va­ri­ety that The Black Swan team hoe by hand, store clamped in straw, and cook in beef fat for four hours un­til

wiz­ened, sweet and smoky – ‘just like a steak’. On Banks’ 12-course evening tast­ing menu (the only other op­tion is a shorter no-choice menu on Satur­day lunchtimes), meat is not off-lim­its; it’s just that with, say, 1,500 cele­riac care­fully planned to last over two months, the veg­etable has to be the linch­pin to each dish, and ‘protein comes sec­ond’.

In­ven­tive­ness has been cru­cial in other ar­eas of the busi­ness, too. With a power-drain­ing dish­washer caus­ing lights to flicker and ovens to fail, a gen­er­a­tor was in­stalled, whose waste heat was con­verted to warm the gar­den’ s poly­tun­nel. The res­tau­rant’s plates and bowls are made to order by a ce­ram­i­cist in York; the oak ta­bles, their legs echo­ing tan­gled roots, were crafted by a join er who works with two other trades­men full-time on the pub and its guest rooms. ‘Whether it’s plas­ter­ing or putting up stair­cases,’ Banks ex­plains, ‘we do ev­ery­thing in-house.’

The en­tire team, Banks takes pains to em­pha­sise, is re­spon­si­ble for t he suc­cess of The Black Swan. And as for the pi­geons who dec­i­mated a win­ter’s worth of newly planted cab­bage, broccoli, kale and Brus­sels sprouts? ‘Re­venge of the bras sic a’ went on the res­tau­rant’s menu, with the bird tak­ing a star­ring role. As with much of his York­shire tale, Banks ‘had the last laugh’.

Be­low Banks and his team spend as much time in the gar­den as they do in the kitchen

Be­low The decor of The Black Swan, a for­mer drovers’ inn, is in keep­ing with its York­shire her­itage

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