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At the Pass with Tommy Banks

In the first installment of his monthly column, Tommy Banks, chef & owner of Roots (York) and Michelin Starred The Black Swan at Oldstead, considers the complexities of starting the year off “properly”

Words by Tommy Banks

Let me just start by saying this: If you’re doing Veganuary this year then all the power to you, but you’re doing it in the wrong month. If I were you, I’d be doing it in July and August when the very best fruit and veg are around!

But it seems we’re all in the mood for radical change when the new year rolls around. Dry January is a prime example. We make it through the Christmas festivities only to swear off drink for a whole month. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never really seen the point for the majority of people. For the most part, people drink so little in January anyway that Dry January basically boils down to a few Saturday nights in. Hardly all that radical; it just makes for a rather quiet month for restaurants (my own included). And for those inclined towards more frequent drinking, what’s the point in doing it for a month only to get straight back on it in February? Baffling. 

For the hospitality industry, January is basically Christmas: We have our staff parties and celebrations in January as the restaurants tend to be a little quieter. So I’ve really got no chance of a Dry January. Not to mention the fact that I’ve just been gifted a fridge full of beer over Christmas. It would be downright rude of me not to drink.

So you could say Dry January leaves me a little perplexed. Our York-based restaurant, Roots, had a visit from a well-known food critic not so long ago who was also doing Dry January, and I have to say, it caught us a little off guard. As much as you try to treat writers and reviewers like the general public, it’s difficult not to ask front of house to report back on how they appear to be enjoying the food. A homemade cordial, as delicious as they are, doesn’t really pair to the same effect as a beer or glass of wine. So if, by some twist of fate, said critic happens to give us a dodgy review, we’re blaming it on the soft drinks.

Maybe I’m just a little bitter about the whole thing. Generally speaking, working in this industry makes it more difficult to stay in shape. Even getting to the gym for the occasional workout can be difficult. But as a man who spends his working day surrounded by food, I know full well that it’s something I really ought to do. I managed to squeeze in a few games of football over Christmas and it was an eye opener: I realised just how unfit I am. If I don’t do something now, I fear it’s going to become extremely difficult to get into shape as I hit my thirties.

Even my dad has gotten involved in the fitness craze. He’s well into this 5:2 intermittent fasting diet, and he’s got a rowing machine precariously set up across his living room. And I mean precarious, as his house isn’t big by any stretch of the imagination. So his new toy sits diagonally in between the TV and sofa. You’d think that limiting your calories with the likes of the 5:2 diet would leave you a little flat, but he says he feels the opposite. I know we all need to take fad diets with a pinch of salt, but maybe he’s onto something. Our head chef at The Black Swan has cancelled the dessert portion of the staff dinner, as the staff would demolish it only to wind up sleepy and sluggish for the rest of the shift. Not that I’m one to judge: I’m the kind of guy who takes 3 spoonfuls of something to taste it when one would definitely do. Quality control: It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it.

In the end, I suppose it’s hard to knock anyone who’s trying to start their year off right and get a little healthier. And Dry January, though it pains me to admit it, is a great step in that direction. Who knows, maybe I’ll try a month off the booze myself at some point. Once I work my way through the fridge-full of Christmas beer, that is. EJ