Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Tommy Banks, North East heat

The  Staff Canteen

Meet the Great British Menu 2017 chefs from North East: Tommy Banks

This year Tommy Banks takes on Josh Overington and Danny Parker in a bid to make it through to the Great British Menu 2017 banquet which celebrates 140 years of Wimbledon. This year’s brief is to create dishes that capture ‘a taste of summer’ paying tribute to the history and prestige of the Wimbledon Championships.

Tommy Banks, Great British Menu 2017
Tommy Banks

Tommy started working at The Black Swan when he was only sixteen. Now, it is a family owned, Michelin starred restaurant serving dishes in Tommy’s own style, using fresh local produce, often straight from the restaurant’s kitchen garden. We eagerly await how Tommy has done in the Great British Menu this year, as he competed for the first time in 2016 where he made it through to the banquet.

Why did you want to take part in GBM once again?

I must be a sucker for punishment! I’m glad I signed up again, I’ve got this competitive nature which is great. It is a brilliant experience and you meet so many brilliant people. You obviously get to spend so much time with the chefs which you never really get an opportunity to do.

Finals week last year was amazing because we basically stayed in a hotel with seven of the lads for a week, and whilst the pressure was on with all the cooking and trying to get the results, we all had a few beers every night.

You never really get to spend a week with seven like-minded people and it was really good fun. I think that’s the main reason to go back but also the stress of doing it is ridiculous and the amount of work you need to do in order to be successful, you really have to practice hard and put a lot of effort into it.

>>> Read: Tommy Banks, head chef/owner, The Black Swan at Oldstead

How did you find the brief?

It was good. In one way, it’s quite nice when the brief is quite vague so you can go with anything that’s summer related. Everyone is kind of going to be using similar ingredients – tomatoes and strawberries – with different takes on them but it was great seeing people get inventive, especially with the Wimbledon theme. Initially, you think strawberries and cream, champagne, Pimm’s, and then you start struggling a bit. It was really interesting for me to see what some of the other guys came up with, because they’d really gone to town and researched the history of the tournament, covering the traditions and those sorts of things. It was pretty fascinating, so I think it was a really good brief.

Was it tough to come up with dishes for Wimbledon – a taste of summer?Great British Menu 2017

No more so than the year before. I think it’s one of those things where I don’t know how other people go about it. I’m not the sort of person to sit and think about it, I just let it play around in my mind. And you always have a deadline so everyone is on a level playing field. You get given the brief and then you get given two weeks to submit your dishes, so everybody has to submit it at the same time.

I don’t know how other people go about it, maybe they take time off and look at it. I just know that sometime before the deadline I‘m probably going to get some idea and hopefully that works out alright. But it was fun; it was quite nice to cook with produce from one season. Growing my own produce all the time, I’m often caught with quite a lot of alternative ways of using things because certain things we might have an absolute glut of in the middle of the summer.

Did the brief or show push you out of your comfort zone?

Oh yeah, I mean the show does. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?! And that’s what makes it so good because you see these professional chefs who often achieve a lot in their restaurants and in their career but when you’re put under that spotlight it’s really difficult. With the rules of the competition, what made it really difficult were the time constraints and things like that. So yeah, of course, it puts you out of your comfort zone but I’m quite lucky to have the advantage of having done it the year before. Obviously, it’s not a massive advantage because everyone is still under the same belt but I think it’s easier to be a little bit more relaxed as you’ve done it all before. I think it was less stressful this year.

Great British Menu 2017How difficult is it to cook in the GBM kitchen alongside the other chefs?

The kitchen itself is a good kitchen; it’s very well equipped. It’s red hot, one of the hottest kitchens you would ever be in your life and that’s hard work but obviously it’s all about staying focused. You have all the other chefs there and of course all the cameras are there. Sometimes you can just get carried away talking to everyone and having a bit of banter or looking at what they’re doing and you take your eyes of the ball. I think the kitchen itself is great but you just have to focus on what you’re doing.

Do you feel under pressure having to create theatrical dishes rather than well cooked dishes, served simply?

I think if you cook a really nice dish, simple but cooked very well, you’re not going to flop. You’re going to do alright because you can’t really criticise a dish that’s ultimately tasty and delicious, but if it doesn’t have that wow factor you’re not going to win. But then, equally, if you go too far on the gimmicks you might get crucified for that, so it’s a fine line. That’s the challenge though and I tried to do both.

Best and worst part of being on GBM?

The best part is probably getting to meet people, whether that’s the veteran judges or the other chefs that you’re working with. Going to the banquet at the Palace of Westminster last year was amazing and there were some really cool people there. That’s why I think I’ve had a really good opportunity here to be able to do that.Tommy Banks and Josh Overington, Great British Menu 2017

I think the downside is obviously the bloody hard work. After you’ve filmed GBM you are exhausted because you run of off adrenaline and once it’s gone you’re just knackered. You just want to sleep for a week.

If you could, would you do it again?

A third year? No…! I think its somebody else’s turn after you’ve done two shows.

If you would be the one scoring your own dishes, would you agree with what your judge said or not? If not why not?

We’ll never know! Last year, I was quite lucky as I got quite high scores and didn’t have too many complaints. Obviously, you don’t do something without reason, I always believe that my dishes are good because I’ve practised them really hard and I’ve thought of the ideas. Equally, it’s hard to agree with them, too. As a chef you know if you have made a mistake so if they drop you a couple of marks because of a mistake whilst it’s really annoying, you’ve got to take it on the chin.

How nerve-wracking is it to cook for them and your peers?

It’s not nerve-wracking cooking for the other chefs because if they don’t like it they don’t like it. I’m quite confident that the food is delicious and interesting and tasty so I’m not too bothered about that, but it is down to the veteran judge who is going to tell you whether you go through and who gives you scores, so they’re the one you need to be bothered about as they can send you home.

I’m not nervous cooking for them but I’m always slightly apprehensive that they won’t get it. For me, it makes perfect sense, and it might be a bit out there, a bit wacky and weird, but are they going to understand it? That’s the biggest concern, you’re in that tasting room and you’re talking to the veteran chef and you’re just trying to persuade them that your dish is really good, trying to explain it to them the best you can.

>>> Find out about all of the Great British Menu 2017 chefs here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd May 2017

Great British Menu 2017 chefs - Tommy Banks, North East heat