FOR a chef who became Britain’s youngest to earn a Michelin star at the age of 24, and twice triumphed on BBC Two show Great British Menu, Tommy Banks is remarkably self-effacing.

“I’ve still got so much to learn,” he says. “I don’t think I’m a particularly advanced cook.” Many would disagree. Banks runs the Black Swan, Oldstead in North Yorkshire, where he’s been from the age of 17 (his parents own the pub), and became head chef in 2013, retaining the star it had won under previous head chef, Adam Jackson. But he felt fraudulent, as if the dishes weren’t his.

Fast forward five years and Banks has gained a name for himself for his own inventive combinations - he prefers the term “making it all up as I go along” to ‘self-taught’ - using local produce and displaying them as though exquisite pieces of art on the plate.

“Do people achieve things and manage to bask in it? I don’t know if I’m different,” he wonders, on the publication of his first cookbook, Roots. “Whenever I achieve something, there’s also something else we’ve got to do.”

Perhaps his feet are firmly on the ground because it hasn’t always been easy. “Running a business in a rural place is really tough, it struggled,” he admits, and aged 18 Banks became very ill with ulcerative colitis, had surgery and spent a year recovering.

“Winning Great British Menu was massive for my self-confidence. Before that, I thought what I was doing was good, but no one else had really [experienced] it, because we were this tiny restaurant and we were quite quiet,” says the 28-year-old, admitting he was “petrified and extremely anxious” going into the show, and how odd it was to be recognised afterwards. Now he’s on the other side of things - this year’s MasterChef finalists spent a day cooking with him.

Anyone who’s seen his TV appearances will know he’s steadfast in his ethos of home-grown produce and really using the ingredients on his doorstep - after all, farming is in his blood. Banks grew up on the farm his family still run in the “idyllic” rural, North York Moors.

As a result, his food is completely dictated by what’s grown on the farm, so humble British veg always takes centre stage, whether it’s a beetroot steak cooked in beef fat, a mainstay at the Black Swan, or in desserts like celery leaf parfait. And any meat he uses won’t be farmed far away either.

“It means you have to be creative,” Banks says. “My menus are designed around what we’ve got coming in.

The book is a real celebration of nature and his homeland. “Everything I’ve done over the last 10 years is documented in there, everything I’ve learned and come up with.” And it’s true - Roots is so comprehensive it covers everything from simple family recipes, like his grandma’s apple cake, to advanced cooking techniques .

He also wants to dispel some of the misconceptions around ‘seasonal’ eating. “When I started growing produce, I realised there aren’t really four seasons in the UK from a culinary perspective, because we literally have nothing ready in January to April, and most of May, depending on the weather.” For instance, peas in supermarkets in spring are likely to be imported. “Spring is a time when everything is growing,” he says, “We haven’t even sown our peas yet! We’d lose them to frost.”

So what’s next for the young chef? “I’d certainly like to do more TV.” And if you want to try his food without the Michelin star prices, he’s just announced a second restaurant opening this summer, Roots York, which will have a “fun, informal” feel.


Makes 20 pieces

4kg Jerusalem artichokes, peeled, to make 400g artichoke syrup

500g glucose

410ml whipping cream

225g butter

16g fine sea salt

20ml cider vinegar

200g milk chocolate, broken into pieces

1. To make the syrup, roughly chop the artichokes and feed them through a juicer. Allow the juice to stand still for an hour, and skim off any foam that settles on top.

2. Pass the juice through a double layer of damp muslin, and bring to the boil in a large stockpot.

3. Over a medium heat, allow the juice to reduce at a steady simmer, continuously skimming off any scum that rises to the surface, until you are left with a syrup roughly the colour of Marmite and a consistency similar to treacle when cooled.

4. Combine the artichoke syrup, glucose and whipping cream in a small stock pot and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to combine. When the mixture boils, reduce to a medium simmer and cook until it reads 100°C on a sugar thermometer.

5. Then turn the heat down as low as it will go, and cook until the mixture reaches 112°C, stirring gently but frequently. At this point, remove the pan from the heat and immediately beat in the butter while the mixture is still hot, followed by the salt and vinegar.

6. Scrape the warm mixture into a deep roasting tin lined with baking parchment. Once the fudge is cool to the touch, transfer the tin to the freezer to set hard.

7. Remove from the freezer and use the baking parchment to lift the fudge out onto a chopping board. After 10 minutes or so at room temperature, use a large knife heated in hot water to cut the fudge first into 2cm wide strips, and then into squares.

8. Line up the fudge pieces on fresh parchment and return to the freezer for an hour. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a small pan of barely simmering water.

9. Using a fork, plunge the fudge squares one at a time into the chocolate to cover them completely, then knock off the excess chocolate by tapping the fork against the edge of the bowl. Carefully replace the fudge in rows on the baking parchment and return to the freezer to set the chocolate.

10. To serve, remove the fudge from the freezer, trim any splattered chocolate edges with a paring knife, and allow to thaw in the fridge for 30 minutes.

ROOTS by Tommy Banks is published by Seven Dials, priced £25. Available now.