Irish Examiner - Magazine - - The Maker Up Edit -

Donal Ske­han has had a change of tune when it comes to recipe cre­ation. Dur­ing the last 12 months, the per­pet­u­ally smi­ley cook has moved lock, stock and saucepan to LA with his wife Sofie and dog baby Max, and has es­tab­lished him­self as a force to be reck­oned with on the State­side foodie scene. Throw in an im­pend­ing real-life baby into the mix, and the Ske­hans have had a lot to con­tend with.

“Since mov­ing out here we are def­i­nitely mov­ing towards the speed­ier meals,” Donal tells me from his Amer­i­can base. “The rea­son for that is that we have moved into a place that didn’t have lots of the cook­ing equip­ment that I would have had back home. We didn’t ship the kitchen gear over from Ire­land so we are start­ing from scratch again.”

Cook­ing with the ba­sics has been a real awak­en­ing for Ske­han, who says it’s mak­ing him re­alise that most peo­ple don’t have lots of pro­fes­sional equip­ment to play with in the kitchen, and as a re­sult, he is shift­ing his fo­cus in terms of new recipes.

Of course, the fact that he and Sofie are ex­pect­ing their first baby in Novem­ber will change the way they cook, and that’s just fine with them. “Right now, I’m try­ing to fo­cus on how peo­ple are ac­tu­ally cook­ing, with what they re­ally have in their kitchens. The recipes I’m writ­ing are there for a rea­son now.”

So­cial me­dia has played a part in Brand Donal since day one, and while it can be oc­ca­sion­ally in­tru­sive (Sofie was re­cently ap­proached in a su­per­mar­ket car park and asked was she Donal’s wife), for the most part, it’s a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s part of what we do — we are putting our faces on things so its in­evitable that it’s go­ing to hap­pen,” says Donal.

With 10 years of recipe writ­ing be­hind him, Ske­han feels con­fi­dent to chal­lenge the tra­di­tional ap­proach to recipes. His lat­est se­ries

Donal’s Meals In Min­utes fo­cuses mainly on one-pot din­ners that can be cooked in 20 min­utes or less.

The se­ries is the start­ing point to his next book, and is en­tirely based around quick and easy meals that refuse to sacrifice flavour. One of Donal’s great­est ex­per­i­ments has been his one-pan pasta, in which he cooks spaghetti and sauce to­gether.

“I get so much stick about that one-pot pasta, but it has nearly three mil­lion views on YouTube. We might have a lot of up­set Ital­ians but it’s a recipe that works,” he laughs. “There are al­ways recipes you want to go back to — the temp­ta­tion is al­ways to come up with new stuff but ac­tu­ally older recipes can be im­proved on.”

His lat­est round of recipes in­clude a one pan Sin­ga­pore Noo­dles, a speed­ier ap­proach to one of his older recipes. I’ve tried it, and it works — even though it feels like it shouldn’t. Like­wise, one of Ske­han’s favourite dishes for au­tumn is a pork and fen­nel ragu (recipe, right).

“It’s the quick­est and most tasty pasta dish you will ever have in your life and it per­fectly re­flects what I want from recipes now. My life needs ease and con­ve­nience now and that’s what I’m look­ing for in the recipes I’m cre­at­ing.” No din­ner is made with ease, ac­cord­ing to Donal, with­out ad­e­quate meal plan­ning.

“I have been bang­ing on about prep­ping for years, but ac­tu­ally, meal plan­ning and shop­ping are the big­gest things when it comes to cook­ing,” he says. “I get su­per nerdy about meal plan­ning. I plan my meals for the week and then break that down into what food I need and then I will work out how I am go­ing to shop around the su­per­mar­ket. Any­one who does the weekly shop knows how long it can take, so if you can shave off a bit of time by get­ting your­self or­gan­ised while you’re watch­ing a bit of TV, then bril­liant.”

While the su­per­mar­kets in Amer­ica may be amaz­ing (he shops at Trader Joes for snacks and spices and a place called 365 for store cup­board sta­ples), Ske­han misses the qual­ity of Ir­ish food. “The main thing I miss from home is that you can pick up a piece of meat and have some recog­ni­tion about where it comes from,” he ex­plains. “We are so much more cau­tious out here, I’ve watched all the doc­u­men­taries — it does push you to be more se­lec­tive about what you buy. It can be a good thing in the times we are liv­ing in; try­ing to eat less meat and more veg­eta­bles and un­der­stand where food comes from is a good thing.”

Veg­eta­bles play a huge part of the Ske­han fam­ily ta­ble. From Mid­dle Eastern sal­ads to warm­ing stews, au­tumn, says Donal is one of the best times for veg­gies. “This time of year is un­be­liev­able for squash. I love them and I adore any of the leafy greens. Kale in par­tic­u­lar is re­ally ver­sa­tile. We do a lot of roast veg­etable and pulse din­ners. Dur­ing back to school time we do more soups and stews and dahl — we love a dahl dur­ing au­tumn.” With Donal ges­tat­ing his new book baby, and Sofie their ac­tual one, as well as a month-long trip to Asia to film a new tele­vi­sion se­ries, the next few months are busy ones for Team Ske­han. Luck­ily for them, they have help com­ing in the form of their moth­ers once the baby ar­rives. You can take the boy out of Ire­land, but never to far from his Mammy…

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