This is not Donal's first trip to Grouse lodge, only a few years previous Donal had also been staying there, but for more conventional reasons, as he was part of the Irish pop band Industry and they recorded some of their songs along with their music video here at this Co. Westmeath location. On leaving school, Donal commenced a Degree in Media and Arts at Dublin Business School however distraction came his way with a chance to audition for a boy band in London. He recalls that when he broke the news to his parents, that he made the cut and he was destined for stardom, their reaction wasn't excitement but more disbelief as if he was leaving college to 'join the circus'!!
This lead to a four year singing career which he admits was extremely hard work but he claims that it sure made him grow up fast. From this Donal presented a show on Bubble Hits, Ireland's first music channel. Even as an 18 year old pop star food and healthy eating was always paramount. Donal spent his summers working with his food stylist aunt, Erika Ryan, he helped out with his families fruit and veg business and worked part-time in restaurants. Surprisingly working in the food business wasn't an automatic career choice for him. However things changed in 2007 when Donal started a food blog, The Good Mood Food Blog. He used the blog as a way to catalog the recipes he most enjoyed to cook. Within a year Mercier Press contacted him with the idea of a cookbook and one based on the blog came into play. At last his love for good food and his many years of experience were finally being channelled into a career that he truly loved and felt comfortable with!
Even though Donal isn't a professionally trained chef he has a vast range of experience. He certainly isn't apologetic for this fact as he is proud to promote himself as a home cook. He notes that many of his readers are home cooks therefore he delivers dishes that can be recreated by even a novice chef. All of his dishes are easily rustled up once you have a well stocked store press! Donal claims that he doesn't cook to impress but more to enjoy a satisfying meal! This is why he is such a huge fan of Nigella, as he loves that she isn't hesitant about throwing in a tin of something into a recipe, if it's a shortcut and tastes good well then why not? Like Donal, she too is a self taught home cook who appreciates the value of a home cooked meal.
Donal's other passion in life is photography which is evident in the stunning photographs on his blog and website. Donal styled and photographed each dish for both of his books. He admits that he is really loving the fact that he is getting paid to do things that he enjoys so much, but he certainly works hard enough. When asked if he has any hobbies or how does he relax he smirked and replied that this is it, he lives and breaths cooking, photography and food writing and there actually isn't any room for a 'down time'. However he does keep many of his family and friends close. While I was chatting with him, his girlfriend of many years, Sofie pottered in with his new book, to give me a sneak peek. The following morning his aunt Erica would be assisting him with some behind the scenes cooking for the new show. Maybe this constant family presence is what keeps this young man so grounded. He was happy to chat about all aspects of his career and is very gracious about receiving so many complements from the media with regards his cookery demos, book deals, television appearances and numerous food related campaigns .This year he was delighted to be asked to be the Great Irish Bake Ambassador which is in aid of Temple Street Hospital.
Donal's biggest inspiration would have to be Jamie Oliver and to his delight Chris Terry, who photographed one of Jamie's recent books, was the photographer who took the cover shot of Kitchen Hero! Donal has been dubbed by the press as 'Ireland's answer to Jamie Oliver' and there certainly are similarities. In recent years Jamie has begun to focus more on cooking for the home chef with a great focus on feeding a family and especially young teenagers. Jamie has travelled all over Britain in the hope to convert the way that children are fed in schools and Donal would love to be involved in a similar project with Irish school.
Donal is proving to be a huge success not only here in Ireland but also in the U.K and France. He has a wonderful upbeat attitude. His good humour is infectious and as a young man, his passion for encouraging home cooked meals is truly inspiring. He is already working on his third cookbook and has many more projects in the pipeline.
If hard work and passion merits success then Donal Skehan is only at the beginning of a long and flourishing career with food!
Donal's book Kitchen Hero is available to buy in most Irish bookstores. It is also available from Amazon.co.uk.
Photos & styling by Nessa Robins.