WIN: A signed copy of Tommy Banks' debut cookbook, Roots

The Staff Canteen


It’s been a year in the making but tomorrow people will finally be able to get their hands on Roots, the first book by Tommy Banks.

The book’s ethos is all about preserving, with recipes from his Michelin-starred restaurant The Black Swan at Oldstead but also recipes created just for the book.

tommy banks
Tommy Banks 

 “When you start writing down recipes you find yourself having to justify why you do things in a certain way,” explained Tommy. “And you have to start exploring those reasons which I think actually made me a better chef.

“I wanted to record what we do and I feel like this is a book, if I had got it myself three or four years ago, which would have been a game changer for me and I’d have been in my element.”

Tommy admits he doesn’t read many cookbooks, there are a handful he finds inspirational and although he likes the ‘big, glossy, food porn books’ what he looks for is ‘personality’.

“I want to read the book and feel like I get to know the chef,” he said. “Christian Puglisi’s book I love because it’s a book of his ideas and although I learnt things from it and most of the time I agreed with him, sometimes I didn’t agree and I liked the fact he made me debate his ideas with him.

“I wanted Roots to be like that rather than ‘here are some recipes, here are some nice pictures’.”

The book explores all of the techniques used at the restaurant, and one which is becoming increasingly popular is fermentation.

Tommy says it’s a topic ‘some chefs may find intimidating’ but he has created a handful of recipes which really work.

WIN: A copy of 'Roots' by Tommy Banks

tommy banks roots low res

We have three signed copies of 'Roots' to give away. To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is comment on this article 'I'm in it to win it'.

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He said: “If you’ve got some salt and some water and a jar – then you can go quite far.”

The book is full of anecdotes, including how Tommy’s dad used to put garlic in the airing cupboard for six weeks to produce the perfect black garlic paste (apparently, they don’t use the airing cupboard anymore!). It’s a story of the journey of The Black Swan and how it’s got to where it is today and Tommy wrote it himself – a task he says he underestimated!


Roasted Ham with Black Garlic

and Onions

“Some days you are on a roll and you’re brilliant, but then other days it’s just hard work. I’d have to have three hours of procrastination before I had one hour of actually writing!”

Although he wrote the book, he is keen to highlight the team behind him and his journey. You may only associate Tommy with The Black Swan but he is certainly not alone.

“It’s always been a family business and having the support of my parents and my brother is the key to the restaurants survival,” he said. “Now, my head chef Will (Lockwood) runs that kitchen day to day along with all the amazing staff we have across the whole business, and it works better than ever. It wasn’t easy giving up that control after ten years running the kitchen but we’ve moved forward leaps and bounds – it’s better than it’s ever been.”

celery leaf parfait
celery leaf parfait

Not all the recipes are from The Black Swan, some were written just for the book and Tommy loved the creativity of this. As with any chef, he is not short of recipes, so how did he decide which to include and which to leave out?

“I knew there would be recipes people would want to see in there like my beetroot dish and the dishes I won Great British Menu with. There are 15 chapters and each one has three or four Black Swan recipes as well as a few new ones. I think the book will predominantly be bought by chefs but I didn’t want it to be a case of someone who is a keen foodie, buying it and then not being able to make anything.

"So, I’ve simplified some of the techniques and used less specialised equipment to make them more accessible. I wanted a range, yes there are dishes which take us three days to make but also there’s a banging salad in there which is really good and has an interesting point to it.”

The book is split into three sections; The Hunger Gap, Time of Abundance and The Preserving Season.  

“I’m trying to explore a new sort of British cooking,” explained Tommy. “Spring, summer, autumn and winter just doesn’t work from a growing point of view or a cooking point of view. It only really works if you are going to your veg supplier and ordering produce from the other side of the world.

“Those sections are broken into chapters which changed a lot, I’d start writing say recipes for celery and then think ’have I actually got enough dishes which are made out of celery?’. That was the fun part when we created new recipes to go in those sections – on the flip side there’s a chapter called early foraged leaves and I had so many recipes for that, I had to cut a lot out and it was the same for wild garlic.”

He added: “Writing the book was just like the sections themselves, it was harder to fill the beginning or the hunger gap but time of abundance I could write so much because as it suggests there is so much produce available at that time.”

foraged soup
foraged soup

Tommy is hoping that people who read and follow his book will preserve something which they can then use in a different chapter when it comes back around. He says that some of the recipes do call for ingredients which you have made 12 months in advance. It should become a whole year of ingredients and the journey through the book shows the reader how they all fit together.

“The book is being released at the end of the hunger gap just in time for the period of abundance so I hope people go out and get loads of ingredients like Elderflowers, preserve them and then use them later in the year. That’s the essence of the book, that’s my aim and I’d be absolutely delighted if there were chefs cooking out of it like that.

“Equally I appreciate this is my approach and it’s not for everybody.”

Roots is the perfect insight into the ethos embraced by everyone who works at The Black Swan and it’s perfect for chefs of all levels who want to challenge themselves and try something new – definitely one to add to the cookbook collection.

Oh, and keep an eye out for the flatulence and the Orks – Tommy doesn’t like to take himself too seriously, even in print!

 *Since the interview, Tommy has announced on his Instagram that he will be opening a second restaurant in York called Roots.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th April 2018

WIN: A signed copy of Tommy Banks' debut cookbook, Roots