Tommy Banks in a field

In Conversation With… Tommy Banks

In Partners by Rose Boex

Tommy Banks in a field
Tommy Banks is a renowned chef, entrepreneur and farmer/forager who runs the Michelin-starred The Black Swan at Oldstead as well as the Michelin-starred Roots York. When the pandemic hit, Tommy and his team reacted quickly and set up the much talked about, premium food boxes Made in Oldstead, selling 500 a week at its peak and even crashing the website! Here we chat to Tommy about his values, why he uses Flexi-Hex bottle packaging and his top tips for reducing waste in the kitchen.

As the owner of two Michelin-starred restaurants in North Yorkshire, what do you use Flexi-Hex for?

Alongside my restaurants The Black Swan Oldstead and Roots York, I also own Made In Oldstead, a premium food box delivery service, delivering three and five-course menus nationwide for the ultimate at-home dining experience. Through Made In Oldstead we also sell a range of drinks products from our own exclusive edition of English sparkling wine by Charles Palmer Vineyards in Sussex, to our collection of premium bottled cocktails made using ingredients grown in our kitchen garden and foraged in-and-around Oldstead too. It’s important for us to work with like-minded suppliers that care just as much about sustainability as we do. Flexi-Hex is a natural fit, sustainable, biodegradable packaging that is also practical and strong, meaning we’re safe in the knowledge that our product will arrive safely and doesn’t hurt the planet.

Flexi-Hex packages drinks from the Black Swan

What's been the biggest challenge in setting up a food delivery service?

I'd say there's no single biggest challenge with setting up a food delivery service because as with any new business, there's lots of logistical requirements to think about. Made in Oldstead was no exception - although we're still creating incredible meals, preparing food boxes is completely different to the style of cooking we do at the restaurants.

We've got customers that live all over the UK so delivering nationwide was a no-brainer, but with this brings a lot of important questions. We've spent countless hours thinking about the shelf life of our food boxes, and how we can make sure that each menu item stays both fresh and delicious whilst travelling from our kitchens to theirs. Lots of time has gone into researching, sourcing and creating sustainable packaging solutions, like Flexi-Hex, too. Owning restaurants, this is something we've not had to think about before, but it was absolutely integral to us that our food boxes reflected the environmentally-conscious ethos that we practice at both the Black Swan and Roots. So yes, lots of different but equally relevant challenges!


How would you define sustainability and is it important to you?

I think defining sustainability is difficult in business because there's no one-size-fits-all approach to it. Both individually and collectively, I really believe that we all have a shared responsibility to live as sustainably as possible, and constantly challenge ourselves to stop and think about how our actions can impact future generations. For me, sustainability means to make choices that consider both their environmental and social consequences - this is something that is incredibly important to me and we prioritise it and every aspect of all three businesses from our packaging, to how we grow and forage, to the incredible local suppliers we use.

"Flexi-Hex is a natural fit, sustainable, biodegradable packaging that is also practical and strong... "

What's your top tip for reducing waste in the kitchen?

Unfortunately, a lot of people are detached from the consequences of food waste. So much is wasted in the kitchen and I think it's really careless - it's also a huge cost that many people don't factor in too. It really is worth spending that extra time thinking about it.

So my top tip for reducing food waste has got to be time. A lot of food waste is generated in the kitchen because not enough time is spent thinking and researching into how different parts of an ingredient can be used. At our restaurants, we never rush our dish development. We think about the potential food waste we can get from the produce that we would need to grow or order in, and then consider the ways in which we can repurpose every part (or as much of) it as possible.

For example, we had a Mallard course on at the Black Swan recently, and virtually every aspect of the bird was used. Many people would just take the breast and throw everything else away, but we spent a lot of time thinking about how we can reduce the food waste from this. In the end we roasted the breast, made a parfait from the offal, made a stock using the carcass and we barbecued the legs for a sauce to accompany the course too. It was absolutely delicious and very little waste came out of that dish.

And if it’s not used in our dishes, we try to use it elsewhere. For example, used coffee grounds are put into the soil of our garden, and leftover egg shells are turned into a natural fertiliser for our plants.

I’m so proud that this year The Black Swan won Michelin’s very first Green Star, showing our commitment to sustainability. It’s a huge testament to the effort my team puts in.

What's your favourite fruit/vegetable to grow and eat and why?

This is an easy one - it's got to be peas. Pick them when they're small and they're so fresh and sweet. We plant ours in the kitchen garden in Spring and then harvest them for our menus all the way through the Summer. There's not many ingredients that you can pick and enjoy raw, but the versatility of peas makes them absolutely delicious in so many forms - even straight from the pod!

Fresh garden peas and a courgette