Every Wednesday evening throughout the summer, Tommy Banks swaps chef’s whites for cricket whites as he captains his local team Newburgh Priory Cricket Club.
The 28-year-old, who became the youngest ever chef to win a Michelin star in 2013, aged just 24, has been playing for the amateur club in North Yorkshire since he was seven.
“As you go on in your career you meet so many different people and you move in different circles, but it’s great playing with the same guys I’ve known since I was a kid because there’s no airs and graces,” he tells HuffPost UK.
“We know each other so well that even if we have the same banter every week, it’s still funny. They very much keep my feet on the ground.”
Tommy plays for the club alongside his brother, James, despite the pair spending all day together at their family restaurant, The Black Swan. The Oldstead-based eatery was named the best restaurant in the world in the annual Travellers’ Choice TripAdvisor awards last year, and as head chef, Tommy is always busy.
“You know how people say they go to work and watch the clock so when it gets to five they can celebrate and go home?” he asks. “I hate it as the day gets further on, because as time runs away from me I realise there are so many things I haven’t got done.”
The pressure to continually innovate also sits heavily on his shoulders. He can feel creative for months, making new dishes and developing new techniques alongside his team, but progress can suddenly grind to a halt.
“When I do hit a brick wall, that can be really frustrating and a little bit depressing to be honest, but thankfully I tend to come out of that quite quickly,” he says.
Being committed to captaining the team forces Tommy to take much-needed breaks and also provides an outlet for his stress.
“I crave that boost of endorphins from physical exercise and being in a competitive environment seems to bring out the best in me,” the two-time winner of ‘The Great British Menu’ says. “Even though there’s 11 people on each team, when you’re batting it’s one person against one bowler.”
The idyllic countryside setting of the club also provides the perfect contrast to Tommy’s hectic kitchen. The field boasts views of a stately home and a swan-adorned lake and the team get changed in converted horses stables. Tommy describes the actual pitch as “dodgy, to say the least” because the team do not have a professional groundsman, but he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m biased, but I don’t think there’s a more beautiful place to play in the world,” he says. “We play against some teams that have really good facilities, so when they come to play against us they look down their noses, but in a way I quite like that, it makes us the underdogs.”
When he’s not playing cricket, Tommy follows it “religiously”, either by checking scores on his phone or tuning in to the radio while he’s out working on the family farm.
“I know it sounds quite old-school but I find listening to the radio so relaxing. It just allows you to go into a different headspace and provides a form of escapism,” he says.
“I adore ‘Test Match Special’. I think it’s the only sports commentary where it’s not just about the sport, they talk about everything else, like what bus is going by outside the grounds and how many pigeons are on the outfield. I think you almost get more of a sense of being there than you do watching it on TV.”
Of course, things do not always go to plan where sport is involved and Tommy’s self-proclaimed “obsession” with cricket can backfire if he feels like he’s played badly. “It can put me in a worse mood than when I started!” he jokes.
When he’s in a post-match sulk, it’s his girlfriend Charlotte who manages to put a smile back on his face. “She’s really good like that, she knows when I’m feeling down and I can just chat to her,” he says.
“We’ll cook together and eat together. It doesn’t sound like the most rock ‘n’ roll evening, but spending that quality time together, with some music on, maybe with a beer while I’m cooking - that’s something I really enjoy. It also makes me remember why I love cooking.”
Tommy will be at The Big Feastival, which takes place Friday 24th August – Sunday 26th August.