herald

Friday 2 December 2016

'Becoming a dad is definitely on the menu for me', admits Donal

Donal Skehan and his wife Sophie at a signing for his new book Fresh
Donal Skehan and his wife Sophie at a signing for his new book Fresh

He's the whiz-kid in the kitchen and has a rake of mouth-watering titles to his name, including celebrity chef, best-selling author and YouTube sensation.

But Ireland's answer to Jamie Oliver, Donal Skehan (29), said that adding one more title to his repertoire is definitely on the menu - that of father.

He's currently flying high in his personal life, having got married last June at an intimate bash in Carlow's Lisnavagh House to his long-term Swedish sweetheart Sofie Larsson.

He told the Herald how starting a family is definitely in their plans at some point when things are a bit calmer.

"It's something that we have always talked about it but we're both still under 30. Friends of ours have had kids so it's hard not to think about it but we want to be a little more settled before we do it," he added.

For now, the pair are content to just look after their foster dog Max, a border collie cross, whom Donal describes as the "real star of the show". The couple also work together, given that Sofie's a photographer who does all his food shots, and he said it can be difficult to juggle the personal with the professional.

Romance

He managed to snatch just one week off in Italy for his honeymoon but says they have to work hard on injecting some balance into their romance.

"You have to make sure that you have time for each other and we've been working together for the last eight years so we make an effort to do things that are not work-based. Otherwise, you end up just talking about things that are work-related," he continued.

Although he comes across on screen as a happy-go-lucky type, he admits that falling seriously ill last year and ending up in hospital has forced him to take a step back from his hectic lifestyle and adopt a more Zen approach to life.

Describing his latest cooking tome 'Fresh' as a "very personal book", the star of RTE's 'Kitchen Hero' admitted how he was "someone who needs constant stimulation".

Little wonder that he has clocked up so much in so short a space of time.

As well as becoming a TV celebrity chef, he was previously in a band with Michele McGrath called Industry, which clocked up two No1s before he turned his attention to conquering the culinary world.

Hospitalised

The Howth native, a self-taught cook who has garnered praise from such food stars as Jamie Oliver, said that the past year has been a "very tough time" for him.

Being hospitalised with the flu forced him to completely overhaul his daily routine to create more balance and introduce some healthier practices.

"I wasn't getting the time to eat or exercise and had no time to really focus. Last year was just mental. There was stuff on every day, I was working every weekend so there was no time off and not time to wound down or time to cook.

"I got to Vietnam where I was doing stuff for the Food Network and I got really ill with the flu. I had no time to get over it and then I came home to Ireland and I had to go on a second round of antibiotics

"Around Christmas-time, it got to a point where I just said, 'That's it. We're not going to do anything. We're not going to take on new jobs. This is just crazy. I want to have time to eat, time to cook, and time to enjoy the opportunities that I have in front of me.'"

It was around this time that the former judge on BBC's Junior Masterchef was asked to get involved in a leadership course designed to bring out the best in participants.

Co-developed by renowned Harvard 'happiness expert' Tal Ben-Shahar and called 'Potentialife', the course included a "life mapping" app with weekly instructional videos.

Other participants included Ireland rugby star Rob Kearney and Donal credits the programme with helping him to cut a lot of stress out of his life.

Positivity

He added: "It's all about happiness and positivity. It's a nine-month thing and it's about spending time on the thing that you want to do and focusing on your goals and it came at exactly the right time for me.

"Now I get up an hour-and-a-half earlier whereas normally I would have just rolled over in bed, I get up and do my yoga exercises and make time to have a proper breakfast. The book is all about having balance and doing things that are measured and achievable."

He insists that he hasn't gone completely clean-living, though - and still enjoys a tipple or two and the normal pleasures in life - but it's about creating a bit of balance.

"I'm not going to sit in my hotel room eating porridge but it's about moderation," he said.

In the meantime, he has plenty of fresh seeds to sow, namely across the water in America.

Donal and Sofie will be jetting over in a few weeks time for an exciting TV stint. "As time has gone on, we've done a lot more outside of Ireland. Our YouTube channel has a quarter of a million subscribers and a lot of those are based in the US. So we're heading over there to do The Today Show on December 1 and then we're going to LA for a few days," he said.

While insisting that a permanent move is not in the cards for him yet, Donal said he's curious to explore fresh pastures across the water and see what opportunities arise for him.

He's adamant though that he's going to take time off for Christmas and he'll be heading away with his other half to her native country of Sweden as they enjoy their first Yuletide as a married couple.

Donal even has a cookery show over there though called Mitt Kok (Kitchen Cook) and laughs how he is "the Gino D'Acampo of Sweden."

He does speak Swedish but says it's a heavily accented version of it and says they "take the total piss out of me".

Moderation

Healthy cooking is a key concern for him but Donal said that everything should be in moderation.

"The majority of home cooks don't have a long list of ingredients in their cooking. My recipes are very doable and that's often what I get some stick for but at 29 years of age, I know who I am and what I do, and we're doing it well from what I see.

"You have to just stick to your guns and believe in what you do."

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