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…