The Kitchen Hero: Donal Skehan

Motley Editor Kieran Murphy chats to TV chef Donal Skehan before his show in the Cork Opera House

“Did you ever think that all this would happen?” “No, never. Never.”

It’s been 6 years since Donal Skehan started his food blog, Good Mood Food, 4 years since his first book of the same name was released and 3 years since he hit tv screens with his show Kitchen Hero but Skehan’s still amazed by his success. Sitting in the almost empty Cork Opera House, with his crew setting up for The HomeCooked Tour, Skehan seems unfazed but not ungrateful for his success.

Having lead a prolific and varied career which included being a presenter for an Irish music tv channel and gaining 2 Irish number 1 singles with pop group Industry, it wasn’t until 2007 when  he took his love of food and starting writing about it. “I think I really loved other food bloggers at the time and that’s why I started a food blog but it was never because I wanted to write a book or because of anything like that. I think as soon as I started I could see the possibilities of a book but I never. It wasn’t the reason or the catalyst that started it. But it’s been great it’s kind of one step has moved onto the other very easily so I’ve been very lucky that way.”

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Everyone always think that I’ve named myself Kitchen Hero but I’m not that cocky. Maybe a little bit but I’m not that cocky.

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Having studied Media in DIT for a year before leaving to join boyband Streetwize, Skehan also did a TV Present course with RTÉ direction Bill Keating. “He gave me a lot of advice about where to go. I really enjoyed the behind the scenes stuff and I think that’s why when I do the TV show I really enjoyed that part as much as the creation process rather than just the here I am on television. That’s good as well but I think when you have more control you get a better end result.”

Skehan received very little if any formal training in cooking and mainly attributes his skills to the influence of his family. “They’ve been in the food business for the last 30 years and my dad still gets up at 4am in the morning. They employ 90 people called Fresh Cooked Foods. He started that as a little fruit and vegetables shop and then it’s grown into this thing where they provide fruit salad, if you’ve eaten fruit salad from Centra or Spar they would have provided them and then they do quiches and pies. They also do wholesale fruits and vegetables to restaurants so I kinda grew up with that so it was hard to avoid and then 1 of my aunts and 3 of my uncles also studied in Ballymaloe. I think with anyone who goes to Ballymaloe, you hear a lot about the recipes and the ethos and as much as I didn’t go myself I felt I garnered a lot of the knowledge they would have brought and every time we sat down for a meal for a recipe they would cook. Food was always a hot topic in the house.”

It was from his family’s attitude towards food where he came up with the title Kitchen Hero. “I came up that because the first book named Kitchen Hero came about we were trying to figure out what it was all about and who it was to appeal to and more so than anything I wanted it to appeal to people who had never cooked before and who were scared of the kitchen who were intimidated by it and I wanted them to be a kitchen hero. Everyone always think that I’ve named myself Kitchen Hero but I’m not that cocky. Maybe a little bit but I’m not that cocky. It was about encouraging people to become kitchen heroes and just about taking it beyond. I think if you’re in the kitchen and you never cooked before and you’ve done it really well it’s like yeah, I feel like a hero.”

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I think I really loved other food bloggers at the time and that’s why I started a food blog but it was never because I wanted to write a book or because of anything like that.

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Skehan has a strong background in performance, as well as his short fledged pop career he also started as Peter Pan in a Dublin panto which holds true to him as he’s on stage. Some would wonder if 2 hours of watching someone cook would be too much for even culinary fans but Skehan encourages everyone to ‘Ooooh’ at something they find tasty and even growl at something they’re not quite sure of. Throughout the show audience interaction is encouraged, with several hilarious kids (“My mother’s pretending I don’t belong to her”) threatening to steal the show but Skehan takes it all in his stride and encourages people to shout out any questions they have with several girls sitting in front of me egging each other to shout out a marriage proposal.

However Skehan’s passion for what he does is evident throughout the show and when speaking. “It’s about encouraging people to get cooking and what better way to do it but in front of people, under people’s noses. One of the last shows we did, we had this young guy who was only 10 years. He’s sitting at the back and he had a little notepad and he’s taking notes and I was like that is why I do it and if you feel like you can inspire someone like that, who knows?”