Tommy Banks, Head Chef, The Black Swan

The Staff Canteen

Tommy Banks discusses his role as Head Chef at The Black Swan and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: The Black SwanTommy Banks

Place of work: The Black Swan, Oldstead

Role:  Head Chef

Bio: Yorkshire born and bred, Tommy started working at The Black Swan aged just sixteen, when his farming parents Anne and Tom bought the restaurant in 2006. He took over as Head Chef in June 2013 and managed to retain the restaurant’s Michelin star despite a battle with ulcerative colitis. Fully self-trained, Tommy has worked unpaid in some of London’s Michelin-starred restaurants, including under Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Follow Tommy on Twitter: @tommybanks8

Chef Skills

Tommy Banks takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

How long have you been in this role? 

2 years.

What experience and how many years in your opinion would someone need to progress to the top level of the industry?

I think it’s certainly important for people to get experience because a lot of places won’t take people on unless they’ve got good experience. I think a really good way of doing that is to go out and do things like stages because no-one’s going to turn you down, it goes on your CV and it looks really good. Even if you haven’t necessarily worked in the best places, if you have a list of kitchens you’ve been into it shows that you’re  willing and wanting to get into the top kitchens. It can lead to a job too if you show you’re prepared to work hard, if there’s a position that comes up you’ll almost certainly be considered and it may well be offered to you.

As a young Chef, what’s the best way to get yourself noticed in the kitchen?

One thing I was told when I first went into the kitchen was that to make yourself noticed, make people aware when you’re not in the restaurant. If you’re always doing things, there are certain jobs, which, when you’re not there, people will go ‘Oh, they would’ve done that’. You may just be a Commis but without you certain things just don’t get done. Make it so they miss you when you’re not there.

What are your ultimate top five tips for someone looking to start a career in the industry?

1. You’ve got to be very passionate about food. You can see some Chefs that are really excited and passionate when a big wild turbot comes through the door, and others that think ‘Oh great, that’s just another thing on my list’. It’s really important to have that passion for food and it just rubs off on other people, and if you have several people in a kitchen that all feel the same way then it does create a better atmosphere. It also makes them consider you more for any tasks going on around the kitchen.

2. Punctuality is very important- nobody is very impressed when you’re late on a regular basis. If you’re serious about your work you don’t turn up late for it. That’s something that not all young Chefs take seriously.

3. Hard work is always a good thing, just asking yourself ‘What extra can I do?’, being clean and tidy- just making yourself a person that people want to be around and work with, really. It’s a good way to create opportunities for yourself.

 4. Extend your passion into trying new things, if a new ingredient comes into the kitchen, take your own time to try and make something good with it. Even if it never makes it onto the menu, it shows that you’re thinking outside the box and using your initiative to try and bring something new to the table, which is always welcome.

 5. The initiative is always important because a lot of young Chefs come into kitchens and they freeze a bit, and they think ‘I’ll wait and get told what to do’. But a Head Chef and a Sous Chef have got so many things on their mind that they don’t have time to look after you. So if you can take initiative and look after the things you’ve been shown before, that’s one less thing for the Head Chef to worry about, and one more thing he’s going to find impressive in the individual, and one more reason for him to invest his time and money in that person.

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Editor 1st June 2017

Tommy Banks, Head Chef, The Black Swan