Tommy Banks never really planned to be a chef. But when his farmer parents bought their village pub ten years ago a teenage Tommy was seconded into the kitchen.
By 23 he was promoted to head chef and a year later retained the Black Swan at Oldstead’s Michelin star, making him the youngest Michelin-starred chef in the country.
Since then he has retained the coverted ‘star’ and, along with his brother James and mum and dad, have developed the Black Swan into a semi self-sufficient destination pub.
And this week he is becoming known to millions as he competes in the North East heat of BBC 2’s Great British Menu. Tommy competes against fellow Yorkshiremen Mini Patel and Chris Archer in the hope of getting to cook a dish at the banquet to be held at Westminster Palace in honour “Great Britons”.
It is the first time that Tommy has taken part in the programme which last year saw fellow Yorkshireman and friends Michael O’Hare win thrrough to cook at the banquet.
“I did have reservations about taking part,” says self-taught chef Tommy. “You have not control over the editing and you never quite know how you are going to come across. I was very nervous, but once I got used to it I really loved it, although it was one of the most exhausting things I have ever taken part in.
“So long as you understand that above all else it is a television programme and you go out to do your best and enjoy to process then you will be fine. Although there is no where to hide if you make a mistake as the cameras are on you all the time.” Tommy says he was on the phone to Michael O’Hare and another past winner and friend Kenny Atkinson getting some advice. Michael will make a return to the programme next week, but this time as a judge for the Northern Ireland heat. “They were really helpful in helping me know what to expect.”
Tommy’s dishes are being judged by Tom Aitkens known to be a tough task master. “Tom really doesn’t give anything away. He has these eyes that just stare straight through you.” But Tommy must be doing something right, as his starter gained him an impressive score of eigh, putting him two poirnts abov his rivals.
“It was nice to get a good start,” admits Tommy although he is tight-lipped about how he progrsses in the competiton.
“The brief really appealed to me this year as it fits in really well with our ethos as the Black Swan. The idea is to celebrate the best of British and to me that is central to what we do at the Black Swan. I think I might have struggled with something like Comic Relief where the chefs were told to come up with funny but serious dishes.”
The Great British Menu is the young chef’s first foray into televion, but it is unlikley to be his last.
“I have quite a lot of approaches since people found out I was doing the Great British Menu and I would love to do more television, but it has to be the right thing.”
Great British Menu BBC 2 7.30pm