Illness at an early age meant Tommy Banks had a tough start. But as the Michelin-starred chef explains in Roots, it also gave him time to reflect, devour cookbooks and develop the determination required to succeed.
This book is a year in the life of the Black Swan at Olstead, North Yorkshire through the eyes of both a farmer and chef. It is presented in three ‘seasons’, from the ‘Hunger Gap’ of January to June where fresh produce is scarce, through to the ‘Time of Abundance’ during late summer, to the ‘Preserving Season’ from September.
Roots is a lesson in operating sustainably and working with the land. Clearly not every chef has the ability to create their own farm on the doorstep, but all will benefit from Banks’ experience when it comes to making use of every element of the produce on offer.
When produce is at a premium and the ‘Hunger Gap’ is in its darkest days, Banks details a recipe for partridge and brassica rolls utilising the unwanted leaves of Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. In the abundance of summer, Banks advises serving produce as minimally as possible, such as his courgette stalk ‘pasta’ with wild garlic pesto and cobnuts or turbot with strawberries and cream.
Groups of recipes feature the same ‘root’ ingredient, be it Jerusalem artichoke in winter, elderflower and berries in summer or celery and celeriac in autumn, along with ways in which the ingredients can be preserved for future use. They start with the simple and progress in complexity, with recipes rated from one to three in difficulty. So if you’re keen to emulate Black Swan dishes, head straight to the ‘threes’.
Of course, any recipe book from Banks wouldn’t be complete without his Crapaudene beetroot dish – which has featured in a Masterclass in these pages – where he advises slowly cooking the steak-like slices of beet in beef fat.
Banks’ imagination has been stoked by the limitations imposed – and possibilities afforded – by being so reliant on his farm’s produce. Here he shares that creativity, with recipes sure to inspire any professional chef.
Roots by Tommy Banks (Orion, £25)