Tommy Banks


Tommy Banks

In the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, Tommy Banks utilises his family's farm to create complex, contemporary dishes that perfectly represent the local area.

Being a Yorkshireman is clearly an integral part of Tommy Banks’ DNA. As a chef, he’s serving up the county on a plate, making the most of the ingredients grown on his family farm and creating dishes like no one else. Winning a Michelin star at just twenty-four years old made him the youngest chef in the UK to do so, and he’s one of the most popular faces on both Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen. The fact that he’s never had any formal training confirms he’s a chef brimming with natural talent.

Growing up on his family’s farm meant Tommy was far removed from the bustle of city life, and becoming a chef never really entered his mind. Originally with ambitions to become a professional cricket player, his first taste of hospitality was when his parents bought The Black Swan, a rural inn about a mile away from the farm in the North York Moors, back in 2006.

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

Adam Jackson was brought in as head chef, with Tommy working underneath him and learning the ropes of professional cooking. In 2011 Adam won the restaurant its first Michelin star, by which point it had made its name for serving accomplished French-influenced food. But when Adam left and Tommy was made head chef in 2013, he was essentially thrown in the deep-end. By continuing to cook the same style of food as his predecessor, Tommy retained the Michelin star and became the youngest Michelin-starred chef in the UK.

‘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. 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.’

This was a risky change, as it could have meant the loss of the Michelin star, but because Tommy hadn’t worked anywhere else (save for a few unpaid stages) he was able to come up with something unique. The ingredients at the family farm down the road became the stars of the show, with dishes such as Crapaudine beetroot cooked in beef fat turning The Black Swan into a true destination restaurant. He continued to retain the star and became a chef in his own right, delving into foraging, preserving and other techniques to make the most of the seasonal produce around him.

Today, Tommy is a familiar face on television (appearing as a veteran judge on Great British Menu in 2019) and The Black Swan is often cited as one of the best restaurants in the UK. No other chef grows produce on the scale that Tommy and his family do, with an immense amount of planning going into what needs to be grown months or years before it makes it onto the plate. With his parents overseeing the farm and his brother James looking after front of house it’s a true family business, but one that’s become renowned for incredible food and hospitality. While many chefs would be happy enough with the incredible produce Tommy has access to, he constantly pushes himself, looking at new techniques and ways to preserve ingredients to take his food to the next level.

As The Black Swan found its feet and went from improving in leaps and bounds to fine-tuning things, Tommy opened Roots, his York-based restaurant, in September 2018, which won a Michelin star in 2021. ‘The original concept was quite small, but it just naturally turned into quite a big place,’ he says. ‘The Black Swan is magical but running a restaurant in the middle of a city is a lot easier logistically. We also wanted to make it more accessible in terms of price, whilst keeping The Black Swan a destination restaurant.’

Opening Roots meant Tommy could start to utilise his beloved ingredients to their fullest. The very best is reserved for The Black Swan’s tasting menu, while vegetables that aren’t quite the right size, for instance, go to Roots, where the more relaxed sharing plate set-up means things don’t have to be quite as meticulous. ‘It works so well having two restaurants. For instance, last year we did a dish at The Black Swan which saw duck leg wrapped in cabbage leaves. We were left with all these cabbage hearts which we had no use for here, so we took them down to Roots and turned them into a roasted cabbage heart side dish. When we didn’t have Roots we sometimes felt obliged to use produce which perhaps wasn’t as perfect as we wanted it to be, but now we can only use the exact produce we want here without worrying about waste. In that sense, Roots has allowed us to refine the food at The Black Swan better than ever before.’

With two restaurants and an entire farm to manage, Tommy and his family certainly aren’t short of things to do. But they’re not stopping – in 2019 they began growing five times the amount of produce they did in 2018 and set up a pop-up farm shop in York to sell fruit and vegetables direct to the public. There are plans to reintroduce livestock to the Banks’ farm, with 100 acres of grassland set aside for heritage sheep, pigs and cows. The kitchen team is experimenting with charcuterie, there are plans to expand on the nine rooms currently at The Black Swan and of course there’s Tommy’s TV work. The Covid-19 pandemic also resulted in Tommy launching Made In Oldstead, a hugely successful dine-at-home box scheme. For a chef who was never formally trained and was brave enough to branch out with his own cooking style whilst maintaining two Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s a seriously impressive feat. There must be something in the water surrounding the Banks family farm.