'It was so embarrassing... I was a chef who could not even poach an egg'
As his first cookbook Roots is published, Lauren Taylor meets the Michelin star chef Tommy Banks whose TV appearances are making him a household name
Tommy Banks was the youngest chef in Britain to gain a Michelin star aged 24, but that doesn't mean it's always been plain sailing in the kitchen. Head chef at the Black Swan in Oldstead, Yorkshire, Banks has just released his first cookbook, Roots - celebrating his ethos of living off the land, old fashioned preserving techniques and humble British veg.
He made a name for himself in the food world with his unusual conconctions (that shouldn't work but do), and is gaining recognition on TV too, winning the Great British Menu twice and making appearances on Sunday Brunch and MasterChef.
We caught up with the 29-year-old to delve a little deeper ...
What's your earliest memory of food?
"I was a fussy eater as a child. Growing up on a farm, it was really old fashioned. When I was a kid, 20-odd years ago, it was a very different time. My mum would make 'lowance', which you might call elevenses, or tea in the afternoon. Scones and sandwiches were always made and flasks of tea would be deployed down the fields (on the farm).
"A dish that's in my book, the apple cake, is my grandma's.
"She was a home economics teacher and a farm housewife, and was always cooking all the food for the men. It was such a different world, because it's not like that anymore, but that's how I remember my childhood."
What's the worst thing you've ever served?
"I'll tell you a straight, honest story that's hugely embarrassing. A very, very long time ago when I was about 18, I was cooking breakfast at the Black Swan and a couple wanted to leave really quickly because they had to be at a meeting. But they hadn't said anything or come down early, they just arrived and said, 'Can we just have two poached eggs on toast now? We need to be gone in 10 minutes'.
"So I cracked these eggs into a pan and the white went one way and the yolk went the other way. I had this batch of eggs and I don't know where they'd come from, but they were useless.
"I couldn't poach them, I kept cracking eggs into the pan and they kept separating. Some people do a vortex where they spin the water and drop it in, I tried that and it was even worse - the yolk just flew off further!
"I just thought, 'Oh my god, I can't serve some cooked egg white and a yolk, this is ridiculous'. I tried to put vinegar in the pan, I tried all the techniques.
"After about 10 minutes, when I knew these guys needed to leave, I just said, 'I'm really sorry but I'm really struggling to poach the eggs, can I make you some scrambled eggs?'
"Which is really embarrassing - a chef who can't poach an egg. I think because I was so young they were cool about it. I totally got away with it because I was a kid. I'm still blaming the eggs though!"
What's been your culinary highlight?
"Winning Great British Menu was a massive thing for my self-confidence. Before that, I thought what I was doing was good, but no one else had really had it because we were this tiny restaurant and we were quite quiet, we didn't have many people coming in. (Going into the show) I was petrified, really petrified, there was a lot of anxiety, but cooking on a stage like that and everyone saying, 'Wow, this stuff is really good', that was a good moment.
"Now the restaurant is busy all the time and the weird thing is, people know who I am to an extent.
"It just happened one day they didn't and now they do. It used to be that I just cooked in the restaurant and that was fine, then one day, after it aired, a lot of the guests want to have a picture with you. Now it probably happens five times a day. So things like that change, but it's nice."
Roots by Tommy Banks is published by Seven Dials, £25