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Tommy Banks
 

Putting Restrictions in Place Enforces Creativity – Living Adventurously #5

Tommy Banks was the youngest chef in the world to be awarded a Michelin star. The Black Swan at Oldstead was rated the best restaurant in the world by TripAdvisor in 2017.

As a connoisseur of banana sandwiches and dehydrated expedition meals, this was not my usual world! But that is exactly what I was interested in on this bicycle ride: to learn about different people’s worlds and ask myself how their lessons might overlap with my own.

I was surprised when Tommy agreed to meet me. I thought he would be far too busy and would not waste his time nattering to some bloke on his bike. I made sure to arrive early and swilled my smelly armpits from my water bottles before knocking on the door.

But Tommy was so generous with his time and I loved being shown around the restaurant and the impressive kitchen gardens. I asked him about his choice between running a cheap restaurant or a brilliant one, about how restrictions can encourage creativity, and the catalyst that serious illness proved to be for him.

I asked Tommy about ambition, defining success, as well as the delights of milk vending machines and flapjacks.

And, no, to answer your question, I didn’t manage to blag a free Michelin-star meal! Back out onto my bike for more banana sandwiches in the rain…

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Show Notes

  • If you enjoy listening to this episode over a cup of coffee and think it might be worth the price, you can buy me a coffee here: www. ko-fi.com/al_humphreys
  • Keep up to date with future episodes (and my other adventures, projects and books) with my free monthly newsletter: alastairhumphreys.com/more/subscribe
  • Say hello on Twitter and Instagram: @al_humphreys
  • Tommy Banks runs the Black Swan at Oldstead and Roots in York.
  • @tommybanks on Instagram.
  • Tommy’s book, Roots, is available here.
  • He focuses on normal, good techniques of cooking – and just does them really well.
  • In 2006 Tommy was running a pub, and probably not a very good one. In the credit crunch he was faced with two options to survive: “2-for-1 scampi night” or “do something out of the ordinary”.
  • The Pub has a bad location – it’s hard to get people through the door. Constraints can be good things.
  • His thinking when needing to change: “We need a thing – I don’t know what it is, but we need a thing.”
  • Putting restrictions in place (self sufficiency) enforced creativity.
  • For the first couple of years of the change in approach they were “serving weird stuff and still nobody was coming”.
  • When you spend a long time in an area you get an understanding of the seasons.
  • Home is a connection you feel, not the buildings or the location.
  • Always wanted to be a cricket player but got ill. If he hadn’t got ill he would never have gone down the path he is on now.
  • I was a horrible skinny kid with a colostomy bag. I needed to pull my finger out and make something of myself.
  • Impatience has been a catalyst for success, but it’s not sustainable.
  • Would you rather play cricket for England or have the best restaurant in the world? Cricket, no question.
  • Values of sport that can transfer into business and into life and into the kitchen
  • Won a Michelin Star at 24, by using recipes out of other people’s cook books. Took time to learn to be original.
  • Disappointment of never being quite fulfilled at finishing an achievement.
  • Do we actually want to fulfil our ambitions? Or does it just lead us to flatness and emptiness?
  • Doing 3 things a day, every day, to make the Black Swan better.
  • Endorphins of exercise vs being overwhelmed by the schedule
  • Relaxed approach to sharing of secrets. Tell the world, then go find something else. The way you go about things needs to evolve anyway.
  • Spontaneity is vital, but so to is organisation in the background
  • Sunday lunch tip: Dawney Arms at Newton on Ouse

Transcript

Below is the transcription of our conversation. It’s done by AI so is perhaps a wee bit ropey here and there. If these transcripts prove sufficiently useful then I will make the effort to clean then up and make them better. Do let me know if you think it’s worth my time to do that. (Or, better still, do it for me…!). If you’d like to listen as you read along you can do that here:

https://otter.ai/s/WR1pkTSCT8-8iXXhc7Wg8Q

Alastair Humphreys
Can I test the levels by asking you how do you cook a fried egg?

Tommy Banks
low temperature, I think.

Alastair Humphreys
Tell me more.

Tommy Banks
well, it depends how you like fried eggs. Some people like them crispy. But the proteins been absolutely frazzled. Heat the oil or even butter if you feel that way. And then a lower temperature almost boil it in the fat so it’s nice and soft. And then if you want a bit more CRISP you can always turn the heat up at the end and crisp. But so many times fried eggs are crispy on the outside. And actually there’s like floppy bits of raw white in the middle which is never good. Especially first thing in the morning.

Alastair Humphreys
Okay. Well, now we’ve got the sound levels right and I’ve learned something. Tommy, thank you very much for meeting me today. Am I the smelliest person who’s ever been in your lovely restaurant?

Tommy Banks
No, because I’ve got chefs upstairs and a hot kitchen.

Alastair Humphreys
Good point. what is your favourite vegetable?

Tommy Banks
Well, God, what’s my favourite vegetable? Probably peas. Because when we grow peas, and we pick them absolutely tiny. we never cook them – always serve them raw because it’s so delicious. So sweet. And when you bite them, they pop. I think it’s a really special special thing.

Alastair Humphreys
Yeah, we live in a world of frozen peas.

Tommy Banks
actually getting peas from the greengrocer or growing them Is totally different, isn’t it? I mean, in fairness, frozen peas are really good product that obviously sustain people. But I think peas can be so much more than than what we think they are. Yeah,

Alastair Humphreys
yeah. Okay, that’s a good first first answer. So I’m cycling around Yorkshire for a month. And back in my youth, I cycled around the world. For four years my diet was mostly banana sandwiches. It’s now 2019. So I’ve upgraded on this trip to banana wraps. If you had
to go if you
had to go cycle for 2000 miles around Yorkshire, what would you be eating?

Tommy Banks
banana wraps is quite interesting. Do you do you wrap the wrap around the banana? It’s still sort of banana shaped and then Munch it? Yeah. Interesting.
I don’t know. I’ve seen you guys get you need something quite high carb like oh, I do like like flat jack and things like that. I think that’d be high energy. thing for me. And yeah, I can drink a lot of milk as well. I like milk and I think it’s a under drunk thing is milk. Yeah,
I have milk and some flat jack. I think we get me around.

Alastair Humphreys
I will do that as well. I’m curious to know, why is your food good?

Tommy Banks
I’m curious to know that as well. I think, I think it’s, I think the food itself we do quite normal sort of good, good techniques. I think I think we’ve any sort of food or cuisine anywhere in the world. If you follow the basic principles and the science behind cooking you can get it pretty right. But I think what makes ours particularly interesting is sort of the ethos behind what we do which is growing and foraging a lot of the projects and I think that’s where you get very unique flavours.
Back on the milk thing, I’ve discovered this amazing little farmer who has a vending machine where they have raw milk. So totally unpasteurized and it tastes unbelievable. Where is that? So it said pick he’ll pick here it’s called cow corner. And we literally go up you slot. Yeah, it’s like a pound two litre things you put your pound in, and there’s the cartons and uses, you get pounds of milk and you walk out and drink it. But when I was a little boy, we had a one cow that my guy that used to milk every morning, and I thought milk tasted like sweet and creamy. And then I realised actually doesn’t most of the time because you have the pasteurised milk and supermarkets which we are drinking. I haven’t had raw milk since I was about six years old until about a month ago. And I discovered this vending machine because there’s so many legislations in place that stop you from selling raw milk set up quite highly scrutinised. But the flavour is unbelievable. I think the nutrition of it’s a lot better as well. So that’s a definite

Alastair Humphreys
visit. Yeah. Okay, that is my next destination when I win, that’s

Tommy Banks
going to power your round trip. Okay, no, come flat jack. Okay. Thank you

Alastair Humphreys
nutritional sporting advice. And tell me about

Tommy Banks
why Why do you bother trying to make this place so good. There’s plenty of successful pubs that just do really nice pub grub, you put in a lot of effort and headaches and work at YYD. Try and make it really good. And we’ll actually initially it came from the location, because when we first started, we did just run a pub, and probably not a very good one, actually. And that was 2006 and 2008, when the big crash happened, suddenly, people weren’t coming out into the middle of nowhere to to visit us. And what most pubs did in the bad economy was discount, you know, two for one state. Now it’s all these sort of things bargains, that’s all very well, but you’re not going to travel out in the middle of nowhere for a bargain when you can get that probably from your local pub. So I think the only way for us is to survive was to do something more premium, something that would make us into a destination that people would travel to, to get here to actually try it. That was the only way we could survive was to do something out of the ordinary. And it was born out of necessity. Really, that’s really

Alastair Humphreys
fascinating that you deal with hard times by making stuff more expensive. That’s a really unusual approach, isn’t it?

Tommy Banks
I think so. But I think there’s only there’s only two ways of dealing with that you can either go the discount way or the other way. And with our location, I think they put the problem with the discount thing is, if there’s no margin on it, you’re never going to survive any way, even if you are getting people through the door. But it does work. And you know, certainly in bad economic times, the bottom of the market often does survive. But the middle of the market probably doesn’t. And I think it was really forced by location. Because the thing is, if you’ve no idea, it’s all very well saying I’m going to make something the best it can be with an idea of it becoming a destination. But how? How would you do that? If you’ve no idea, and I think the set a year or two, I was like, we need a thing. I don’t know what it is. But we need to thing and like, why would you travel a long distance somewhere because it’s unique. And you know, I think I’ve taught restaurants which have a real thing about them, that people would travel a long way for. And that’s when we started growing, produce and foraging because I don’t have any culinary background at all. Actually, I can’t just I wasn’t trained in Paris, I started cooking. So amazing French food never not come through the only sort of food memories you had, were actually growing our own food and eating it as a kid. So started doing that. And by putting these restrictions in place, and try to aim towards a more self sufficient angle that really took the creativity because you have to be creative to make things and it all kind of came together. But certainly, there was a year or two where we were just doing quite strange food and no one can. Okay,

Alastair Humphreys
I think is really interesting. So before we there was a time when you weren’t trying to make amazing food. You were just was it just a fairly normal, nice ish pub.

Tommy Banks
Yeah. And that was only the official trip state pilot. No.

Alastair Humphreys
And Was that your limit your aspirations at the time? So if for example, if I carried on trundling along happy enough, would you have to stay doing that?

Tommy Banks
Yes, quite possibly. Yeah, I think so. But you don’t I mean, when we started the tour, I had no idea what a Michelin Star Wars or tasting menu or, and it was all unknown, you know, grew up in old stuff. And that left old stuff and we just want to make a nice poem. You know, it was all right.

Alastair Humphreys
I find the the storey of you, starting here with no training really interesting. And I just wonder, what were your parents thinking when they bought this place and put you and your brother in charge? Because you were a pair of numpties?

Tommy Banks
Yes.

Alastair Humphreys
What did Yeah, what were they thinking?

Tommy Banks
I’ve no idea I saw it now. We’re we run into a really small farm, which would never make ends meet. So growing up, my dad did a lot of contract farming to work really, really hard. And mom rather than breakfast in the farmhouse, so always growing up, we were kind of involved in hospitality because we always had people staying in the in the farmhouse, and I think they usually they thought that was the next obvious step was to maybe get the village pub and try and run that because they’ve been running a bed and breakfast. So I suppose that was sort of the end. But for me and James, when we started this, I was 17. I literally left school after Elon Musk was like, it sounds like way more fun running a pub than being here. And James already left school and I think he was he we weren’t when intelligent, what bad lots but we weren’t focused, I think as a age of 1516 is a, which is a lot. I think it’s quite hard to be focused on academia really.

So yeah, it was a bit of a, but I think we totally didn’t make a success of it anytime. Early. No.

Alastair Humphreys
I said, It’s me. One of the reasons that I’m spending a month cycling around Yorkshire is that I grew up in Yorkshire but so far, I’ve been going for a week, I’m actually wanted to place a base haven’t been anywhere I’ve seen before in my life. And I’m really interested by this idea of what knowing home so and what what does home mean to you?

Tommy Banks
Well, as by the time the total opposite. I never actually left home. And I know. So I know my area around me really, really well.

I think when you spend a long time in an era, you begin to know the seasons very, very well. And when you’re involved in survival, culture and cooking, I was trying to brag that I think if you put me in like a time capsule, and then it’s dropped me in Olmstead, I could tell you to within a week what time of year it was by by the seasons, and I think you get a real for me home is I is an understanding. Whereas I go anywhere just too late street something, I wouldn’t have the sort of same connexion. But oh, that’s weird. Like all that’s flowering now. And then that’s then they’re doing this and well that they would be doing that, you know, and I think it’s more of a connexion. Really, I feel it, as opposed to the actual sort of buildings and the location. It’s more just like, the general feeling of being around in the land. I make sense. Yeah, it does. No, it does. It makes a lot of sense. And it’s interesting because I grew up also in a tiny village, very similar size to this but in the Yorkshire Dales.

Alastair Humphreys
And yet, I was just desperate to get out. And for years, I just thought that the interesting world began away from here. And so I spent years just going off all around the world for many years. And it’s only recently that come home and started exploring home and taking more of an interest in it in the way that you’re kind of saying that and and and i think that Yeah, so so so that the the point of that is that I’m trying in my way to live adventurous, that’s what I want to do is live an adventurous life. And this one of the other reasons I’m cycling around is to try and meet interesting people who are living adventure asleep, but in different kinds of ways. And what you’re doing is definitely bold and adventurous in different ways. So I’m wondering, what would your take on living adventurously, me.

Tommy Banks
Just just to touch back on what you were saying there, I think when you grow up in a rural area, you do think I want to get out here. And I did think that. And I really, I think you end up being caused by like necessity, like I talked earlier about changing what we did through the necessity of the economy, but also for the situation to put into and I always wanted to be a cricket player Actually, I always travelled the world playing cricket me to men, awesome.

Alastair Humphreys
But

Tommy Banks
I got quite l when I was sort of 19 my partner’s thing was to spend the winter in Australia playing cricket. And I think if I’d never got to totally different path, I had no interest in doing this whatsoever. I too wanted to travel the world and be adventurous and do things. But I couldn’t. And I think that reevaluated my my situation. And actually, that’s why suddenly you play with the tools you’ve got in front of you. And I think that’s why I free myself into this and make a success of it. Because of the situation I was in. But what was the actual question? Well, what would I think about being adventurous

Alastair Humphreys
I kind of what the question was because that’s more interesting. And I think but I think this is this is a really interesting thing that a lot of people I talked to really want to live adventurously in their own ways, but they can’t do it because of x, y and Zed. And that’s usually time or money that to ones but in your case it was it was illness was Yes. Newer, us more lesson in and out possible for a year. Yeah.

So what then what did that experience that year teach you.

Tommy Banks
It’s a very humbling experience. I mean, I think the thing was, is

not that all diseases aren’t nasty, but the disease I had was most of colitis was when I actually as an 19 year old lad had a colostomy bag for a year, which is not cool. In any stretch of the imagination, local history credit, I think, I think it made me not an angry person, but kind of like, frustrated with the cards have been dealt and I think very determined to be successful, which I would never have had that determination. Otherwise, because I was pretty chilled out. And I was I was you know, wasn’t successful academically, I had no drive, really, anything I was interested in was playing sport, and actually having a good time and a laugh and I would never have had the drive to do something. But after that I kind of felt I’ve got no qualifications and this horrible skinny teenager with a colostomy bag lied. I need to really pull my finger out and make something of myself. I think that it gave me a drive and determination I wouldn’t have had. So I think in a lot of ways, it was an awful time. But in many ways I have a lot to be thankful for it because I have no idea what i mean i wouldn’t I definitely would not be announced that I liked you growing up in a rural and out of gas morass that’s entirely different, if not for that, but you get dealt these cards that you kind of roll with it because something good usually just coming up.

Alastair Humphreys
So you’re now in a hurry in your life.

Tommy Banks
Yeah, I need to not be back. definitely been in a hurry. I think that’s something that I’m finding that impatience has probably been a catalyst for success. But actually, it’s not a sustainable thing is interesting. We were talking earlier you said I’m trying not to hurry as much. And I think i think that’s that’s exactly right. And it’s something that over the over the next decade. I’m going to try and slow it down a little bit because I think there can be a lot of success in taking your time and things as well. Yeah,

Alastair Humphreys
yeah, there’s different ways to do things. And would you rather have the best restaurant in the world for play

Tommy Banks
cricket for England? cricket

but I think you always want what you haven’t built opposite to what you’ve got that you but I mean, that was always the dream growing up and I think I still love cricket more than anything and I probably think about cricket more than anything else. Because as a kid I was obsessed stuffed aholic used to watch teletext flashover, which is fairly dull by you find it enthralling. So I think that’s still my first love. Yeah. And

Alastair Humphreys
how is the World Cup final? Amazing?

Tommy Banks
Yeah, absolutely amazing. I think that was a best effort of cricket ever because people know I’m obsessed with cricket. And but most people don’t like cricket. So they always like was it was the pilot, you know, and that was the ultimate advert. And with it being on telly. Yeah, it’s wonderful. I think that’s brilliant. because growing up, I watched cricket and witnesses has not been afraid to tell you I think you miss out on a generation of children who could have seen it. And I think we’ve been been on telly they made the thing was weird, like seven hours of high tension drama, then was a draw, and then another draw of witching the world on a technical role, which no one even knew about in the first place. That couldn’t be any more cricket. And that’s why I love it. Yeah, it

Alastair Humphreys
was amazing. Was it Yeah, also, growing up in a rural village, one of my main memories of being a teenager, when I start to find being in a village really boring, was trying to sleep as late as I could just to kill a bit of time and waking up ready for the test, Matt? Yeah, to get settled in in front of the 11 o’clock,

Tommy Banks
but then you come down, this covers around, it’s raining, what we’re going to do watch the highlights. But the other thing for me, the escapism was actually if I could play cricket for men’s teams on a Saturday, you as a teenager, you get if you’re good at cricket, you get teams playing for you get picked up, taken for a game of cricket taken to the pub, few beers and come back. And so I was I was living the dream as a 1415 year old you said it was decent cricket user f1 way to play them. So you go out and play No, you get driven everywhere and you go to the pub, it was great social, I think. I think sport is a really, there’s a lot of values in sport, which can transfer into into business but into just general life. And I played so much team sport growing up and I always seem to be made the captain. And I think the man management skills are developed at a very young age helped me a lot when I actually go into the kitchen and looking after two other people.

Alastair Humphreys
It’s interesting, isn’t it? How things you do at one time in your life means prove

very helpful for

Unknown Speaker
another time. And like you can’t predict at the time? No,

Tommy Banks
not at all. But I think that’s why the start just classroom activities are developed people. And I think I think finding sports incredibly important, but any other sort of activity that is involved in human interaction. And that’s a really important thing. Because that’s really how you get on as now you unless you’re on your own rowing across the Atlantic, of course, and you really have to get over yourself. That’s what I struggle with most actually get on myself.

Alastair Humphreys
And I get a veggie box. Pacifica, local veggie, which I love

it and learning to cook new things, but

the root get a lot of it. There’s a season of a lot of people, how can I make beet root not be disgusting?

Tommy Banks
Well, our signature dishes were beetroot cooked in the fall, which transforms it somewhat. And I think if you cook anything long enough in the face, that’s good. But by no means it’s so funny because that is asking to dish with certain people come to the restaurant I don’t like be true and they refuse to eat. And you are please. And I think it comes from like a school dinners sort of thing where you know that pickle beaches are so acidic. I think that’s a really that’s it. Yeah, cooking beef is a really good way to end it but actually pickling it, but doing it in a slightly sweeter pickle with some nicer vinegar than the malt vinegar interviews would is a really nice way to have it as well. Okay,

Alastair Humphreys
thank you. And I was reading a an interview you did once in which you said that you felt a bit weird that you’ve reached the pinnacle number brilliantly

reached this of Pinnacle without really feeling that you were in your words, pioneering in any way or doing anything amazing, classic imposter syndrome, you still feel like an imposter.

Tommy Banks
Less so but I think

I feel we took steps from that. I think that the thing with that was I want to miss our 24, which was the youngest daughter or something, which is, which is fine. But at the time, I was very insecure in the way that we were cooking. And certainly the food I cooked at time was out of other people’s cookbooks. So a Top Chef would bring out a really good cookbook, but that’s a great recipe. I tweak it a little bit. And hey, the food was very good. Of course it was because it but it wasn’t there was no originality. And where I sort of felt fraudulent was the people holding me in some sort of genius, when actually, I think a lot of people apply themselves, they could probably recreate other people’s, you can make it quite good. And that was a real catalyst to try and do something more unique because I was like family keep getting this praise, I really ought to deserve it in some way. So that was the way of,

of being more creative and really inspired. We can run on the farm.

But imposter syndrome, I think we all have that load, because but I think we all look at other people and their achievements and hold them in higher esteem than we’d ever held our own achievement. And so I think we all feel a little bit like imposters and think I look at them, they’re doing something amazing. They probably mirror image it back. But it was a good thing. One thing I always learned is that you always think things are going to feel better than they actually do. I mean, a you might be the right person to ask about this. Because I always add the two I’d love to be able to do that with that. And then you achieve it you’re like, Okay, well, we’ll try to achieve this and never feel quite fulfilled, which I always feel very disappointed about. But then your goals are more extreme and like, more precise, I suppose like, like, the moon, the Atlantic travelling right right around the world. Do you get the buzz that you are hoping for at the end? Or do you hope for boys? I don’t know. Or is it all a little underwhelmed? by the time you’ve done it either? Now you feel like as I struggle with I always find that I wanted to achieve something, achieve it and then it doesn’t give me what I thought it might

Alastair Humphreys
I feel exactly that. And when I get to the end of something, something that on the face, it seems like a big achievement, or they generally think is well, if I’ve achieved it wasn’t that hard. I should have tried something harder. Or a big journey. So yeah, something like syphon around the world. So I set off at 24 was the same age as you getting Oh, yeah. Michelin star. I think the one thing I could think that age has for is just reckless enthusiasm. Energy is energy. Yeah. And, and just a sufficient ignorance to just get on with. Yeah, so I set off site around the world. And I was very conscious that it would have been really fun. It should mean to be doing the whole journey, purely in order to get to the finish line and the achievement. That would have been a stupid thing. spent four years doing that. So it’s I’m really trying to appreciate the things along the way, which is easier said than done. And yeah, getting to the end, I felt very flat and then anticlimax and everything I ever do journeys, writing books, finishing films when I’m finished. What’s next? And I don’t behind that.

Tommy Banks
Yeah. Do you feel that emptiness? That thing that is pulling everything towards? you almost don’t want to achieve it? Because you always striving for something. And then when you achieve it, it’s like, oh, I need something now to achieve otherwise, you just flat an empty? I mean, we just talked about the World Cup. How do you How does it feel to win the World Cup? But how do you get up after that? Like, what do you do? Yeah, I think I think you know, people who are serial achievers like sports, like Roger Federer, how does he have the drive to do that over and over? Because once he’s won everything? Like, what does he do nice to find some aliens that play tennis against I’d like for you know, it’s it’s a weird or miss interesting to hear you say that i think i think if I thought I could ever achieve the things that you would achieve, as I understood the either you just give up long before, but I think I would really struggle with afterwards

Alastair Humphreys
what to do next. So do you do what you say gets getting the Michelin star say, once you’ve achieved that did that?

Tommy Banks
Does that encourage you to what more and more and more

Alastair Humphreys
move on to the next level? Or does it make you worry that you might lose what you’ve got seen? Does it put you wanting to achieve more? What’s it make you think I’ve got this and I’m worried I’ll lose that.

Because you can only go once you’ve got Michelin stars,

you’re going to go downhill going.

Tommy Banks
Citizen of India is fearful. I think I’m a

little bit more of a slightly different approach, I think.

No, I think less actual worry about it. I don’t worry about these.

This bigger things in life and that think actually, before achieved it, you think that’s the pinnacle is all you can achieve. And then once you achieve anything much about that actually now there’s actually more important things like a much more interested in creating something amazing, that’s going to put a smile on someone’s face or, or getting into it like opening another restaurant, like changing the way we farm. Making different products I investigate are the things right in another book, things that are more inspiring to me. But I mean, like at the same time, if what I want to do is make the restaurant better and better every single day. And if we do that, then perhaps more missions as a come our way, because we’re making it better all the time. But certainly we never be getting out of bed thinking that we can get that second star that doesn’t really enter my brain.

Alastair Humphreys
Okay, that’s interesting. And one of the things that I’ve really noticed slightly change in my own life. Actually, I was gonna ask it for you. First of all I tell you about me is deep in your life. Do you measure success, your successes, or do you measure your progress?

Tommy Banks
progress, I think I think we’re under percent.

Because I think going back to thing that successes and never feel like they just because once you’ve achieved it, it’s just one of the things is.

Whereas I used to have that thing which I can no longer achieve. But I used to have this thing that I used to try and do three things a day, every day, seven days a week that made the Black Swan better. When it was a talk about it as a 24 Inch Nails. I have felt like this imposter syndrome exactly that and I’m thinking how can I I’ve got to make because people are travelling here now. And they expect this to be awesome. And maybe it’s maybe it is good, but maybe it could be better. And there’s just a million things that could be better. And I tried to three things a day every day. And I think that’s what I real high achievement because I was just nailing it every day. But as

Unknown Speaker
a lot of things that I found

Tommy Banks
fascinating could it could be anything that I thought I thought was better. It could be from

sourcing a new piece of equipment that was going to make things better, or changing a dish that I believe was better, or implementing a new way of doing things or changing the way we have stuff doing different things, anything I thought was gonna have a positive impact on the future of the restaurant. But it had to be three things that progressive it didn’t have to be, I’ve made a new way of making this awesome. That’s amazing. It was all food based, it was more sort of

team based, business based location based. Now by probably if I could do three things in a week ever quite happy.

Alastair Humphreys
Yeah. Well, I appreciate that. Because in the early days, the lot to improve as

Tommy Banks
Yeah, yeah. And it probably had a lot simpler situation. You know, I think I think in them days, I’m probably only received an email once a week or something. So there was a lot of things that could be always now it’s you know, life’s all about restoration or something.

Alastair Humphreys
So if you had if you had one hour extra day, just to do just for yourself, what extra Magic Hour, what would you do each day?

Tommy Banks
I probably exercise because that’s it that makes me feel really good. But I never get to do I find it very stressful if I try and take an hour out of the day to do like, I went to the gym or go for a run on Facebook, no idea. If I yeah, it was to find that I always find that very stressful because by the time you’ve done that hour, and then you pick up the songs emailed you sort of miss a call, you got to go see so and I was thinking, careful, it’s been an hour doing that. So if I should do it, I would exercise because I think it would make me more effective in everything else.

Alastair Humphreys
But not sufficiently effective to

Tommy Banks
merit an hour as it is what it should do. They should do something I just I know you know, there’s many things that you can say you know, you should do but don’t and that’s one thing that because I know the endorphins releasing you, it makes you more energetic makes you even if you’re tired, you’re more energetic and makes you more creative again, but tend to be overwhelmed by the schedule and just never get to it.

Alastair Humphreys
So you’re almost 30 or 30 you are 30 any signs of a midlife crisis?

Tommy Banks
Yeah, I think so.

Well, I we were talking about this earlier, actually, I now fear drinking. Whereas as a young younger band, it was like the dream was going out and getting beers with the lads like, it just gives me a hangover and I feel awful and I’m not very productive afterwards. And I feel guilty about my lack of production and I just don’t need it in my life anymore. So I think that’s one thing that massive change, but it’s not really a midlife crisis as though that’s been growing up. That’s just been growing up.

Well, it’s good, you know, probably not then give it 10 more years.

Alastair Humphreys
Yeah, you’ll be writing about Ron Yorkshire.

Tommy Banks
Yeah.

Something like academia. I have too busy at the moment to think of something I’m sure what was your midlife crisis? You can’t tell you that because you’ve wrote around the world. 24 So start with the midlife crisis right around Yorkshire.

Alastair Humphreys
Know my midlife crisis really came with

change the change from being a

adventurous, ambitious, hard working full on charging at life madly to be the best I can be.

And then getting married and having kids and suddenly having to compromise in my life. Right. And suddenly, me selfish me was not the only thing in the world. That was the challenge I faced.

Tommy Banks
Okay. Yeah, I definitely.

I definitely chase a little bit.

stops, like things hurt more, don’t they? Later, we’re still play cricket a bit by knowing it was good. And very shortly I’m playing cricket tomorrow. And as a chart, she’s just like, maybe you just need to play more regularly because you’re getting so bad at it. And I definitely chase him. I know I could be better if I played more. So maybe that’s starting to get a little bit of a midlife crisis. I haven’t really cared that my ability was getting worse and worse. But suddenly I do like I feel it falling away from me. So maybe that’s the start of something to rebel just start playing cricket three days a week. That’d be nice to get the exciting covered as well with the lovely with net.

Alastair Humphreys
And going back to when you got started. How did you manage to get some work experiencing Raymond blocks red restaurant, because he must get a million

Tommy Banks
young idiots? Yeah, probably does. I mean, I was only the only did a few days. Well, yeah,

Alastair Humphreys
I know. It’s a

Tommy Banks
taste it. But I think actually something that in our industry is quite common. That usually you just email a restaurant and say I’d love to come and do a storey called stars, which comes from the French word TechStars. You mean you just there for a time. And it’s just free work experience that we we have someone to that we have someone every week, the next six weeks coming in, and welcome and do week. It’s quite common. And also, it’s a great way of recruitment. Because you think if you have somebody in for an interview, how do you know if they’re any good? How do they know what they want to work? There you go new weeks, and you’re fairly certain about the place and you’re fairly certain about them. So it’s actually fairly common place in our industry, which is really nice thing because a lot of industry and a lot of people wouldn’t share. I think traditionally, chefs would never share the recipes. Whereas now we just allow people to come in and out. And it’s cool. Like people come in your kitchen for a week, they see everything you do, they move on, this holds part of it. Okay, that’s,

Alastair Humphreys
that’s really interesting. One of my life, my working life is very lonely. Like, I travel around on my own doing stuff. And then I sit in the shed, and I write books. And I love it. But what I really love the idea of his mentors to do this sounds like a really good system of trying to help young people come up. Was Did you have any of that mentorship helping you? Not really not?

Tommy Banks
Not in like necessarily being a chef in way, but I think, definitely my parents have never left home. I’ve always kind of been been

in that sense, I suppose.

But I think I think the having the blend and that you’ll be I think it’s really important because actually you learn from them as well. There’s always when you sit down talks when you always learn something. So I think it’s quite good to have that sort of free free movement and, and not be protective over anything. Your intellectual property really, because at the end of the day, you’re not going to like it anyway, in a year’s time, you’re gonna thought something new. So this is no need to be. Yeah, protective, I think it’s good to be free with things,

Alastair Humphreys
I found exactly the same in terms of so about 10 years or so ago, I thought, right, and you want to try and earn a living out of adventure stuff in order to do that people need to know about because they know nothing about me. So the way I started telling the world was by blogging, writing, writing, writing. And what I found through blogging, is the more I give away, the better things become. So I just tell everyone, everything I know how everything just tell tell tale. And there are some other adventurers I know who are very protective or don’t tell anyone but was I’ve really think that the more you give away, the more you receive back.

Tommy Banks
Absolutely. The thing is, you can bank on the things you know, now being early the things you’re ever going to know. I think that’s where people go wrong, exactly the same. So don’t tell them about this, I will just tell about it. Because what you need to do is and venture is find something else. You can’t just bank on to the secrets forever. I think that’s the same with with cooking. There’s no point being protective over what you’re doing right now. Because really, you’re not doing your job properly. If you haven’t discovered something totally new within a couple years. And then it’ll be interesting what you’re doing anyways, you might as well share it,

Alastair Humphreys
yeah, share it and move on. And I guess you’re sort of backing yourself there. Like it says, Yeah, give me what I can see. Keep ahead with things. And I’m interested in how you balance

having months of planning like broccoli in a plant a load of onions, and they’ll be ready in six months,

Tommy Banks
however long it takes to grow.

Alastair Humphreys
Plant loads of onions versus the spontaneity and imagination if we’ve gone

foraging, we found a loaded

sorrel today. So how do you This is something that I struggled a bit with? How do you was the difference between people planning versus just action in your life?

Tommy Banks
Yeah, it’s, it is a difficult balance. I think, going back a few years, it was all action, no planning, it made for a very interesting site and food and

quite sort of stressful.

But then there’s we’ve got busier and big empty, you gotta have more planning, or it doesn’t work on, if you don’t have planning, you can actually put anything on the menu. Because unless you grow a certain number of them, you haven’t done enough, I can’t serve a red pepper to three people in the business of tomorrow, because that’s I’ve only got three of them. And two of them, you know, I need to grow enough of the things to do enough of so what we generally try and do is we’ll have like a list of ingredients that we know we want to put on the menu, we don’t necessarily have to come up with optical with the dish eight months in advance, but we kind of know roughly what we might do with them. And we make sure we grow a big volume of them. So we can have enough to use on the menu. And then we’ll grow some experimental crops as well. And then sometimes you end up doing things not as you plan. But unless you actually have the, the ingredients in the first place, you can’t really do anything. So the key thing is to get the number. So I know have enough of these to serve every guest for a month, what we do with it near the time is a little bit more spontaneous. I think that that’s the sort of balance strike that balance it works quite well. If you just go I will wing it and see the light off court is amazing. This year, we’ve only gone for Atlanta that there’s a catchy service to anybody. That’s where we kind of went wrong in the first place.

Alastair Humphreys
So you need to have the lay down this sensible, slightly boring foundation safety net, right? We need this, this, this and this. And then things you know you want. Yeah, yeah. And that’s an important thing. That then on top of that, you can just throw on this of crazy, have found whatever go with it.

Tommy Banks
Exactly. It’s like Well, we’ve got polytunnel full of tomato. And until three days ago, we didn’t know we’re going to do with them, but they’re all getting ripe. And they originally were going to go to actually the cow corn place Tell me about we’re going to make some fresh fruit kata, and serve that with the tomatoes, really simple fish, then submit the last minute the tomatoes ended up being semi dried, to the quite sort of sour and sweet and sour and sort of scholars. So I just had it happens, you

Alastair Humphreys
know. And

Tommy Banks
that’s the beauty of it. But we didn’t have the tunnel before tomorrow is going to be at the end of it. So I think it’s quite nice to Yeah, it’s it’s spontaneity, but with the organisation in the background.

Alastair Humphreys
When I was in cycling around the world, I the phrase that I used a lot called pragmatic recklessness, because what I wanted to do on that trip was be as reckless and crazy and spontaneous as I could, because I was a young guy having a big wild adventure around the world. But equally, if you go full on reckless through Africa, or Colombia, then you might as well die, or the very least fail so so I came up with a system of trying to be pragmatic, so lay down the basics of need visas here, I need to work out where there’s a war, blah, blah, blah, sensible kind of thing. And then on top of that, just through the recklessness of To hell with it, let’s turn down that road and accept this invitation for these dodgy looking people to their house and just see what happens. Okay.

Tommy Banks
Yeah. So yeah, that was that was like that’s it recklessness here. And you start a new restaurant?

Alastair Humphreys
Yeah. In New York, called roots.

Tommy Banks
And how long’s that been going? It was last September that we opened. Well,

Alastair Humphreys
here. Has Joe route been to route?

Tommy Banks
He hasn’t? He should do Really? Yeah. Is that on your? Maybe I should invite him to do list. Yeah.

Alastair Humphreys
And you’re doing so well, with this place here? It’s fantastic. Success, storey? Why? expand? why did why are you getting busier doing that thing? Why are you risking failure to your reputation? Why don’t you just stick with this places doing great.

Tommy Banks
is? It’s a good question. I think it came from sort of two things. One, we’re not fully booked all the time. Now. We’re busy. But we’re not fully booked with it was time when we were totally fully booked. So you couldn’t get it. And so that would seem like it was a necessity to have more seats available for people to eat things will put your price up. Yeah, I think that so long term, ladies will very well, you’re never going to be fully booked forever it and then when you put your prices up, I think you know, you think you’ve got to think you can’t there’s no get rich quick in any form. I don’t think that’s a sustainable thing to do. And but the other thing was, it was more from the the actual growing point of view, because we were expanding the ground, we’re growing lots of different things. But actually, when you just do in one menu, in one place, it’s very hard, you can’t be self sufficient, you have no use for a lot of the stuff because you might use all tomatoes one size, but not the other size, or, you know, if you grow too much things or you could use one part of the plan, but not the other. So we need another outlet really. And and with with roots, it’s allowed us to become much more self sufficient, because it’s a little bit more casual, sort of sharing plates sort of thing. And it allows us to use all the produce. But the flip side is we don’t have to force it at the black swan. Whereas in the past, I’d have to force it as I’ve grown all this will have to use it. And I’ll have to use them even though that’s not quite what I wanted it I’m going to use it anyway because it got to I can’t waste things. Whereas now we can cherry pick exactly what we want for the Black Swan, and then use everything else still gets used. Not there’s anything wrong with the other things. But if you know if you’re trying to really get the exact specification of something that you want. So is it enables us to be more self sufficient and sort of close the circle a bit more? Okay, let’s see

Alastair Humphreys
here. You have a good answer to that. And on the roots. I was reading that you do the food comes in the three seasons, essentially breaking down the year to three seasons, which I love these phrases. You have the the preservation season, the hunger gap in the time of abundance here, which I love those. They could all be novels, they’re great

Tommy Banks
phrases, and what what are they briefly? Well, interesting novels, they actually came about from me writing a book. So a book called roots, which came before the restaurant. And I suppose roots also sort of the concept of the book. The idea is I wanted to write a cookbook, and I was very nervous about run a cookbook because I think it’s there forever. And I didn’t feel they like it was very, I was far enough down the down my culinary journey. However, I also felt what we’re doing needed to be recorded. And aside from most cookbooks are spring summer, autumn winter, if you’re a farmer up in North Yorkshire, there isn’t really any produce in spring. In fact, most of our party doesn’t really come to the middle of June. But when I pick up chefs book, so they’re always your peas and beans and things and it’s all end of April and May in their books. And that’s why they do grow in Europe and then we ship them in us and so I kind of la carte, right? Truly a spring summer autumn winter book and believe in it, whereas I see it as a January through to June we call you up for reasons that we don’t really have anything there’s a few seasons ago maison, Yorkshire rhubarb, some great root vegetables, and last year brassicas but we use off a lot of things that we’ve preserved. And then right now it’s July now it’s a time of abundance, because I can literally do menus with just the projects that come straight to the land, little amounts of effort into it, cook it serve, it’s beautiful. But that’s a very short window. And then the end of the year, we we really spend frantic for the trying to preserve as much of the lay of the harvest and, and the Autumn is brilliant, because you get some stuff from the hedgerows. And that’s just a free harvest, if you know what to do with it. And so we frantically try and make as much stuff between then at the end of the year to last us through. So I felt like we cook with three seasons anyway. And from a bit from a growing and cooking point of view, there isn’t four seasons, there’s kind of like the time we got loads of stuff a time we got nothing the time when there’s a bit of autumn little stuff. So the three candidates together.

Alastair Humphreys
Yeah, I really love it. And something I haven’t figured this out in my head yet, which isn’t good. Because it can be too late. But somehow I feel this is applies to life, like the phases of life and like the hunger gap time to abundance preservation season. I haven’t worked it out yet. But I’ve got a month on the bike, I think that’s a good decision about the different phases of your life. So I’m going to try and figure that out. And I’ll get back to it.

Tommy Banks
Yeah, I kind of get I mean, it’s a very traditional way of looking at the hunger gap is not a phrase I made up. That’s a traditional,

Alastair Humphreys
okay.

Tommy Banks
Its traditional thing, I think, going back before we had refrigeration and air, freight and sea freight and everything, but when people were more self sufficient, they would talk about the hungry get when nothing grows. And the only gap actually doesn’t really refer to January in February refers to the month of May usually, because the month of May could be scorching hot, beautiful, everything’s it’s lovely time, but that’s actually a time when the plants grow. There’s nothing to eat too hard. That’s the time when we got lovely weather, but we need all that energy to go into the plan to create something we can then harvest in the time of abundance or the preserving season. So that would be quite an old fashioned term. I think like going back a few hundred years

Alastair Humphreys
that the day is not being wasted. Thank you.

And so my last question to you is,

I’m cycling around Yorkshire for a month. And one of the great things about Cycling is you’re continually hungry and therefore very greedy. And where where do you go as a chef, where do you go and you got an evening off and you want to want a nice meal in Yorkshire. Okay.

Tommy Banks
So well my favourite thing to do is actually Sunday lunch. Amazing. We used to cook Sunday lunches at the restaurant for years and thought I never would touch one eat one again. see another Yorkshire pudding was since we stopped doing Sunday lunches. I now think they’re the best thing I can see why it’s our tradition like roast beef from Yorkshire puddings and meeting to evangelise delicious. I go to a place called the door the arms news which a little poke down on the river cruise. And they just do the most brilliant Sunday lunch and it’s really good value and incredibly good quality. And it’s it’s always around for Sunday lunch because everyone people know it’s good. But that’s my my my go to and that’s my so happy place no matter what time of year is. I have a glass of red wine. Sunday lunch.

Alastair Humphreys
It’s pretty relaxing. Sounds very good. Tommy, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for showing me around. You’ve been very gracious and generous and I’ve really enjoyed it.

Tommy Banks
Thank you very much. Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun.

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