We chat to York based chef Tommy Banks
By Zoe Crook
Dec 14, 2020
We love being based in Yorkshire, not just because it’s our home, but thanks to everything that’s going on around us. We feel lucky to be surrounded by great businesses and people who share our passion for quality craftsmanship and materials - it’s an amazing community that we’re really proud to be a part of.
Recently we caught up with one of our favourite neighbours, chef and restaurateur Tommy Banks, to talk business, Yorkshire, and of course a little bit of interiors too…
Tell us about your restaurants…
The Black Swan is the Michelin-star restaurant that I run with my brother, James, and our parents near our family farm in Oldstead. My family has farmed on the land in and around Oldstead for generations, and my parents took over the local pub in 2006. In 2011, we won our Michelin star.
The surrounding farm and our kitchen garden are integral to everything we do both at The Black Swan and at our other restaurant, Roots in York which I opened in 2018 with my business partner Matthew Lockwood.
The two restaurants’ concepts are different but they share the same ethos: absolutely everything we serve is inspired by the ingredients that we grow in Oldstead, using a variety of cooking and preservation techniques so that we can use the produce all year round.
2020 hasn’t been easy. How have you had to adapt your businesses this year?
We were devastated when we had to close both restaurants back in March due to the first lockdown. We had to think quickly and find a way to support our staff who were unable to be furloughed, our suppliers, and of course our customers, so we started our nationwide food box delivery business, Made in Oldstead.
It started with just a few of us delivering three-course meals to people in our local area, however it has proven overwhelmingly popular, and Made in Oldstead is now a permanent arm of our business. We have an entire kitchen team dedicated to our premium food boxes and we deliver three and five-course meals across the country every week, with every dish staying true to our ethos.
As well as our regular boxes, we’re also producing a range of festive boxes and products - menus to cater for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, but also a festive Provisions Box containing everything you need for a truly special Christmas - think chicken liver parfait with mulled wine jelly, black garlic-glazed gammon, beef and red wine salami, root vegetable and woodruff mince pies and a selection of Courtyard Dairy cheese.
Why do you think they’ve worked so well?
We had brilliant feedback from the word go with our boxes - customers enjoyed the novelty of ordering restaurant-quality food to their doors. They were thrilled to be experiencing a taste of Oldstead at home, and enjoying the unusual ingredients and ways in which we prepare them at their own tables.
I also think that customers enjoy the accessibility of the service. Not only is it great value for money but customers based as far away as Cornwall can get a feel for our food. As we emerged from the first lockdown it was clear that the demand was here to stay.
We’re constantly innovating, too. Ever since we launched we’ve been asking our customers for feedback - we get sent such lovely emails, and even postcards, but we use every piece of feedback to continue improving, whether that’s tweaking recipes or changing packaging.
You opened Roots in York two years ago. What do you like about the city?
There’s such a great atmosphere in this beautiful city - it’s really buzzing and has a brilliant independent food scene. It’s growing and we’re getting more and more national interest, helped by the fact that York is so accessible. It’s really exciting to play a part in the development of York and working with other food businesses in the area has been inspiring.
What do you enjoy about running a restaurant here?
We’re only 20 miles from the farm in Oldstead and yet there’s a completely different feel to Roots. The restaurant takes on the lively atmosphere of the city. It’s great to see locals time and time again but also those from further afield who have either travelled to York specifically to visit Roots or are just passing by.
Where do you recommend in York?
Definitely Flori Bakery, I love to go there for coffee and pastries on a Sunday morning, and I’m a big fan of Brew & Brownie, too. I love the ramen from Shori at Spark, and for something sweet you cannot beat the macarons from Florian Poirot (they’re based in Malton but are regularly in York for food markets).
How involved do you get in the interior design side of your restaurants?
While my mum Anne takes care of the main interior decisions, like everything we do, the whole team is involved. It’s really important that our interiors reflect our ethos - at Roots, for example, you’ll see jars of our produce that we’ve pickled or preserved on the shelves, and even vegetables from our farm planted in pots.
We get asked so many questions about the tables at Roots with their beautiful root-like legs. We actually made these ourselves. My dad Tom and two guys on our team, Ollie and Andy, are the geniuses behind those.
When it comes to the plates we use for our dishes, I use local ceramicist Jane Schaffer (Jane the Potter). Once the team and I create a dish, we go to her and she helps us design and make a plate especially for that.
I love to work with local suppliers on our interiors. Our neighbours and our community are our friends, just like Bert & May.
What’s your personal interior style?
I must admit, I’m more comfortable in the kitchen, or out on the farm, but I do love nothing more than relaxing at home, and I really try and create an environment that is just that.
I’ve lived on a farm all my life, and have worked in the kitchen of an old, traditional pub for 14 years so I do love the traditional, farmhouse style. Having said that, I am really into the simplicity of Scandinavian interiors, and that’s definitely reflected in our restaurant dining rooms.
What do you like about Bert & May?
Just like ours, Bert & May is a family run business based in Yorkshire. At the heart of our business is a commitment to showcasing the best of our region and brands like Bert & May share our passion for doing so.
The tiles are absolutely stunning, an example of the creativity we can find on our doorstep in Yorkshire, championing quality materials and fine craftsmanship - something that can be appreciated in both food and design.
You’re currently on our screens in the Great British Menu. What was it like to return to the series?
It was so fun to be back cooking in the Great British Menu kitchen with some legendary British chefs and past winners. It’s particularly special for me to be a part of this series because the final banquet is to honour our NHS staff. A very humbling opportunity to cook for some incredible people who have sacrificed so much for us all this year.
How are you spending Christmas?
Usually Christmas is quite a big family affair, but we’re keeping it quiet this year for obvious reasons. On Christmas Eve I’ll actually be helping the team with the Christmas Day boxes our customers will be collecting that day, then I’m looking forward to spending some downtime with my fiancé Charlotte, cooking a big Christmas dinner for our parents, and going on a nice, muddy walk with my cocker spaniel Socks.
What are your plans for next year?
Up here in Yorkshire we’re really working on building on what we have. Hopefully with things returning to some normality we can get the Made in Oldstead crew out to some food festivals and pop-up events. I’m particularly excited about Malton Food Festival, which I’m patron of. Further afield I will also be heading up the new restaurant at Lord’s Cricket Ground (I am cricket mad!) from 2021 as part of a three-year partnership.
For more information about Tommy Banks and Made in Oldstead, click here.