Tommy Banks: 'that is just the rule; no ego, no d***heads'

The Staff Canteen

In the latest episode of Grilled, a podcast by The Staff Canteen, Lisa Goodwin-Allen and her guest, Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks, discuss kitchen culture and why they don’t want to work with ‘d***heads’.

Hospitality we often think of as just being about food and service but it’s not, it’s about people. It’s a ‘people business’ and for Tommy Banks, both a Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur, ‘culture is the most important thing’.

“When people start, I sit them down and say ‘look we don’t have any dickheads’. And that is just the rule; no ego, no dickheads,” explained Tommy, who recently opened The Abbey Inn and hold stars at his other restaurants, The Black Swan at Oldstead and Roots.

“I just don’t want to work with people like that and nobody does. I don’t think many people are dickheads, I think they just become dickheads because of their environment sometimes. We just try and have no bullshit like that because it’s just rubbish, isn’t it?


“We’ve all worked with people like that who are bad for the environment, and I think there is no middle ground to it. You either add to the group, add something positive or you are taking away. Everybody here has to be adding to the business and adding to the environment and everyone’s wellbeing or they are taking something out and then we’ve got a problem.”

He added: “I feel like culture is something I am the custodian of. Growing up in a family business and those family values, they have to run throughout and I think we’re at a point where people understand that now and they know there is no point acting any different because it won’t work.”

What is the secret to good kitchen culture?

Tommy believes, the secret to having good culture is having diversity in your work force, he said: “It is a very male dominated industry, especially in the kitchen.

“Lisa is a hero and has definitely inspired lots of young women to get into the kitchen, but I think the more and more women are in the kitchen, it really does help the environment. It helps cut a lot of the bullshit and it just makes a better environment.”

Lisa added: “It’s values in the kitchen and respect, isn’t it? We all grow as a team. A year ago it was strange because it was just me in the kitchen the rest were male but we’ve seen that turn now to about 30 percent and it’s growing which is great to see.”

Tommy says all of the management groups in hi kitchens, are a good mix of men and women which he believes ‘helps create a better, more balanced working environment’.

“Hopefully more women will look at careers in the kitchen as something they really want to do.”

Can the industry change for good?

Ultimately both Tommy and Lisa want to create kitchens that they would be happy to work in themselves and although it may be a slow process, the only way to change behaviours is to hopefully instil good practise in the teams they manage, which they will then take with them.

Tommy said: “If you want to have any sort of legacy in the industry, that would be a major one – I hope that people leave here with the values we have as a business and then go off into the industry and execute on them values – I do think that is the only way we can improve things and show young people this is a career to go in to.

“The other thing to touch on, especially in kitchens, is the average age is quite young and people need looking after when they are in their early twenties or are teenagers and that’s where you need good leadership, good mentors.”

He added: “There are so many young, vulnerable people working in kitchens who need an arm around them. That support is something you would find in other industries, but it hasn’t been traditionally in ours.”

The pair both look after large teams and while this can be difficult, Tommy says what he has always loved about it is ‘bringing a whole new demographic to a very rural area’.

He said: “To be able to bring a whole group of young professionals to an area where most people are retired and the main industry is farming, it’s something I’m most satisfied about.

“Also, bringing people through. We’re starting an apprenticeship scheme this year and I just like the development of people.

“What I also like is when people move on, not because I want people to move on but because I enjoy other people’s success.”

Agreeing, Lisa said: “We couldn’t be successful in our businesses without good people in the team and to develop young people, bring them through the ranks – there is that proud moment when they do spread their wings.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th July 2023

Tommy Banks: 'that is just the rule; no ego, no d***heads'