A slice of the good life
PANS PEOPLE: They’ve no formal training, so how did the Banks brothers help turn a rundown village pub into one of Yorkshire’s six Michelin star restaurants? Sarah Freeman finds out.
UT the back of the Black Swan at Oldstead, just behind the polytunnel and next to what will be a terraced garden, is an old bicycle, which with a bit of welding and the addition of half a dozen nozzles, has been transformed into a mobile fertiliser spreader.
“Yep, that’s Dad’s latest invention,” says head chef Tommy Banks, who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant along with brother James. “He turned up on it the other day, strapped on his backpack containing the fertiliser and off he went. He hasn’t patented it yet, but I reckon he’s onto something.”
Dad Tom and wife Anne own the 160acre arable farm next door and when the old village pub came on the market in 2006 they decided to buy it. Partly it was about reinvigorating what had become a bit of a run down boozer in the North York Moors National Park, but it was also about giving their two sons a career in a part of the county where many struggle to find work.
It was a bit of a punt, but the Banks brothers have more than repaid their parents’ investment. It was back in 2012 that the Black Swan, close to the White Horse at Kilburn and Byland Abbey, first won its Michelin star under former head chef Adam Jackson. When he left, Tommy, who had been learning on the job, decided to take over in the kitchen, with James continuing to run the front of house.
“If I’m honest I’d never thought about becoming a chef before Mum and Dad bought the pub,” says Tommy. “Back then I was more into girls and sport. I certainly didn’t know what a Michelin star was, but we did know that we wanted to create something special here. Dad has always been the kind of person who thinks he can do anything and I guess James and I have both inherited a bit of that spirit.”
Having successfully held onto the prized Michelin star, which brings not just kudos, but bookings, the Banks brothers have proved they can deliver fine dining. Now they want to take the Black Swan to the next level, by making the restaurant – as far as is possible – self-sufficient.
“Obviously there’s a limit to what we can do – clearly we can’t get our fish from the back garden, but it’s something we’ve always been keen on, ever since we took over the pub,” says James. “When some establishments talk about local produce they mean it comes from the same county. When we talk about local produce, we tend to mean within a couple of miles. Over the last few years, we have built up really good relationships with farmers and growers in this part of the world, but now we are established it feels like the right time to step it up a notch.”
That means growing their own vegetables in a special polytunnel – built of course by Dad – and
I was more into girls and sport. I certainly didn’t know what a Michelin star was.
THYME WILL TELL: Tommy Banks, head chef at the Black Swan at Oldstead, checking on a selection of herbs in the kitchen.
GROWING CONCERN: Tommy and his brother James, who runs front of house, busy in the polytunnel behind the restaurant.