Exclusive Interviews

Talking animal fats, Great British Menu, and time pressures with Tommy Banks

Yorkshire has some exciting chefs and restaurants right now and very, very high up on that list is Tommy Banks.

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Tommy holds a Michelin Star and 4 AA rosettes at the magnificent Black Swan at Oldstead (and is also Britain’s youngest Michelin-starred chef) and is a real spokesman for Yorkshire food. The fact that he is also a big cricket fan also helps to sway us as well!

With all this in mind, we were thrilled to be able to do a Q & A with him about his experience so far on this year’s Great British Menu as well as his thoughts on the Yorkshire foodie scene.

What inspired you to take part in the Great British Menu this year?

I’ve always been a fan of the show ever since I started cooking. After speaking to Kenny Atkinson and Michael O’Hare about their experiences on the show last year, it really sounded like something I wanted to do. I also relish the opportunity to compete against my peers; it gives you that extra creative push that you need sometimes.

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Many chefs have told us about the different challenge that the Great British Menu kitchen presents. How did you cope with the pressure of working in this unfamiliar kitchen?

It’s not so much the kitchen that’s the problem, but the time restraints. We only have an hour and 20 minutes to create our dishes, but within that time, people don’t realise the number of interviews you have to do alongside the cooking. It’s easy to forget sometimes that you’re not just there to cook the food you love, but also to show your personality and make an interesting and watchable TV show.

Did you find it tricky to avoid making ‘restaurant’ style dishes?

No, not really. We kind of work from our own brief everyday here at The Black Swan, serving a tasting menu that changes almost daily, so we don’t really produce ‘restaurant’ style dishes anyway. Sticking to the clear brief for four dishes on Great British Menu wasn’t too much of a challenge.

How intimidating did you find it facing the likes of Pru Leith from the judging team?

Pru is an absolute babe! Actually, the first cookbook I ever owned was a Pru Leith cookbook, so it was such a pleasure to get involved in a show with her. Having respected all of the judges for such a long time, I felt surprisingly calm about the possibility of cooking for them.

Which restaurant (aside from your own!) have you really enjoyed dining at recently?

I’d have to say my current top three are Forest Side in Grasmere (I ate here a  week or so back and really enjoyed it – I’m so happy for Kevin to gain a Michelin Star this year too, he’s a great guy and he thoroughly deserves it), Clove Club (easily my favourite restaurant in London at the moment), and Man Behind the Curtain (Michael O’Hare is a really good friend and I find his food so fun). Michael has been very supportive throughout Great British Menu and has always been there to give me advice when I need it.

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Which ingredient is your favourite to work with?

Animal fats! What doesn’t taste better cooked in animal fat?!

If you would like to try out some of Tommy’s fabulous cooking, check out the Black Swan’s website here.

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