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Tommy Banks: north Yorkshire’s shining star

Tommy Banks: north Yorkshire’s shining star

by Tom Shingler 23 May 2017

He might be one of the youngest chefs to hold a Michelin star, but Tommy Banks is more concerned with taking the ingredients and flavour of Oldstead and putting them on the menu at The Black Swan. Tom Shingler finds out more.


The Black Swan at Oldstead – a name which doesn’t give much away. It could be a run-down boozer, a run-of-the-mill gastropub or a countryside bolthole serving modern British cuisine. In fact, this destination restaurant has a Michelin star, offers dishes made entirely with local ingredients and has a seriously accomplished chef at the helm. Not bad for a business bought on a whim by the Banks family in 2006.

‘It was one of those pubs that change hands over and over and I’ve no idea why my parents thought they could make a good run of it,’ says Tommy Banks, head chef. ‘Me and my brother were given the job of running it but we weren’t very good; we just had a great time hosting loads of parties. It soon became clear that for it to be a success the pub needed to offer something different, and we thought a destination restaurant was the best idea.’

Tommy never really planned to become a chef and to this day hasn’t completed any formal training. Instead, he learnt on the job in the kitchens of The Black Swan, helping out wherever he could. The restaurant won a Michelin star in 2011, and when Tommy was given the role of head chef in 2013 aged just twenty-four, there was a lot of pressure to maintain the level of cooking. But he managed it.

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Tommy's food has developed its own unique style, representing the flavours of north Yorkshire perfectly
Tommy
Almost all the ingredients on the menu come from The Black Swan's kitchen garden or Tommy's family's farm in Oldstead

‘I think I worked every day for about three months around that time – it was really hard. While it was great that we had a Michelin star, the style of cooking was very classical and quite French. I felt a little bit like a fraud because I was being named in the press as the youngest Michelin-starred chef in the UK but hardly any of the dishes were my own.

‘I wanted to develop a more unique cooking style, so I started to look at what I could do differently,’ he continues. ‘Coming from a farming background and knowing the local area so well, it made sense to just make the menu all about Oldstead and Yorkshire produce.’

Tommy went about making the menu his own, using produce from the family farm and seeking out the best local suppliers. Today the restaurant is almost entirely self-sufficient, meaning common ingredients such as olive oil and lemons aren’t used in the kitchen. This type of cooking is obviously completely dependent on the seasons, which makes winter a bit of a challenge when it comes to fresh produce. But Tommy has it covered – taking inspiration from Nordic restaurants such as Faviken, he ensures any gluts during the warmer months are set aside and preserved for when fresh ingredients are scarce.

‘One thing we do is make a butter out of spruce tips, which can only be picked for maybe three weeks every year. It takes three days to make the butter, but then we have enough to use year-round. At the moment we use it to flavour scallops that are baked in the oven – the heat is so intense that the shells re-seal and create a sort of vacuum, which means the scallops steam inside. We also serve it with some Bramley apple, because there are loads of Bramley trees all over the countryside around Oldstead.’

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During the spring and summer, dishes are full of fresh produce and fantastic colours
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The colder months are just as tasty, as Tommy preserves all sorts of produce when it's in season to use later on in the year

Foraging adds a point of difference to Tommy’s dishes – wild garlic, sorrel and woodrush are picked when in season and used in all manner of inventive ways – but the fact that The Black Swan has its own garden, maintained by Tommy’s farming family, means that they have access to some of the best ingredients in the UK. Heritage varieties of all sorts, fresh berries and even exotic ingredients like oca – a type of Peruvian tuber – are grown in either the two-acre kitchen garden or on the farm. Perhaps one of Tommy’s most famous dishes is the Crapaudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat – a quintessential Yorkshire dish that takes a simple ingredient and elevates it to Michelin-starred status.

It’s safe to say that Tommy has now made the menu at The Black Swan his own, giving diners a real reason to make the trip to relatively rural Oldstead. In the process he’s retained a Michelin star, showed much more experienced chefs how it’s done on Great British Menu and made a name for himself as one of the UK’s most exciting young chefs. But is that it? Is he now happy with how the pub operates? ‘I’m relatively happy with the cooking, but there’s still so much to do,’ he says. ‘We’ve got huge plans with how we want The Black Swan to grow – new rooms for people to stay in, expanding the building, things like that.’ And with Tommy set to stun the judges on Great British Menu for a second year running, we expect he’ll need the extra room for all the bookings the Banks family will no doubt receive.

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