Donal Skehan’s TV show ‘Meals in Minutes’ comes to Singapore. Here’s our interview with the charming Donal…
You may recognize BBC celebrity Donal Skehan from television programmes Good Food (on UKTV) and Junior Masterchef UK. Chef Donal, who lives in sunny Los Angeles, USA, is hugely popular thanks to his affable Irish charm and his easy to follow approach to cooking meals, literally in minutes! When Donal came to Singapore this month to promote his latest show and cookbook: Meals in Minutes, our foodie editor Beate Baldry jumped at the chance to chat with him. Here Donal reveals his fondest food memories, how he is encouraging his toddler to be adventurous with food, and some fun facts about himself (like touring with The Pussycat Dolls!).
How did you find your way into cooking as a career?
My parents are in the food business. They worked in wholesale fruit and vegetables so I grew up doing my homework at the kitchen table with my dad doing the orders for punnets of strawberries and sacks of potatoes. But I never thought it was for me. I found my way into it through the love of cooking. My mother and grandmother were great in the kitchen. My grandmother was an armchair cook — she’d see something on TV and be inspired to make it. In the 197o’s my grandmother was making Danish Pastries and other things certainly not available in Ireland at that time. So she was the person who really inspired me to have confidence in the kitchen.
What is your fondest memory of food as a child?
Absolutely my mum’s Sunday Roast dinner was always a tradition in our house – a big roast chicken with crispy roast potatoes – proper comfort food. They are my fondest family food memories; food that brought everyone to the table. My brother wasn’t a great eater growing up but even he would sit down to eat the family roast dinner.
We hear you were flipping pancakes aged 4! What foods were you excited to cook yourself growing up?
My grandmother gave me a wonderful encyclopedia for Asian cooking so by 13 I was experimenting with cooking Asian food, which brought me to a completely different place in terms of flavour compared to the roast dinners and fish pies that I grew up with.
What is your favourite family meal to cook?
My go-to meal is the dish on the front cover of the Meals in Minutes book. It has been the most popular recipe from the entire TV series and book and it’s one of the recipes that people tag me for on Instagram over and over! It’s my Garlic & Rosemary Chicken with Confit Butter Tomato Sauce and Gnocchi. Readers you can find the recipe on Sassy Mama here!
What foods does your 16-month-old son Noah enjoy?
He’s currently eating Taiwanese noodles! The beautiful thing about living in L.A. is that we have these pockets of different cuisines very close to us. I always compare L.A. to Singapore because you get these great authentic cuisines from different nations in this one space. Noah is a great eater thankfully because I would really struggle if I had to make chicken nuggets and chips — the standard kiddie fare! He’s really adventurous and his favourite thing to do is sit in the kitchen with me and watch what I’m doing; he’ll try the vegetables as I’m prepping and he always wants to stir the pot! Long may it last.
How have you encouraged Noah to be an adventurous eater?
We cook different meals all the time — we always mix it up. And if we eat out it’s never the same kind of food, like we’ll go to a vegan pie place and he’ll eat that, or he’s had tacos! I often wonder if we lived in Ireland if he’d be exposed to different foods as much, apart from what we cook at home – it’s a good thing!
What’s your favourite one-on-one activity to do with your son?
We walk around the neighbourhood and go for pizza or a smoothie bowl and give my wife 3 hours to herself. We buy nothing in the stores because we don’t want him to have too many toys, but we do go to the kids’ stores and basically he feels all the toys and has a good time! Plus all the wonderful parks near us and he’s obsessed with water at the moment.
Any advice for new parents?
I always say the best advice I could give any new parent is to get out of the house with your kids if they are starting to go stir crazy. Even walking 100 metres out of the house just breaks that wall of tension with your child.
How do you and your wife cope when you travel away from your son for long periods?
We live in LA so we don’t have that family support network, but we try plan it so one of our sets of parents can come over if I have to travel. This trip has been difficult – 3 weeks has been the longest I’ve been away. Before I left Noah and I had a really close bond; he had just got out of the mummy phase and he was into being with me all the time so I am hoping when I come home we can rekindle that. Finding a way to balance it all – work and family – is going to be the tricky thing moving on.
You’ve been to Singapore before (for Donal’s Asian Baking Adventure), what dishes or ingredients have surprised you or have you most enjoyed here in Singapore?
Singapore breakfast of kaya toast done the old school way over charcoal transported us to old Singapore and I really enjoyed seeing that. Also, curry puffs were the biggest revelation as that’s what interests me in Singaporean food – the cross culture going on and fusion food that comes with a backload of history. I’m also very excited to try sambal stingray at East Coast Lagoon Food Centre.
And finally, tell us something quirky about yourself?
I used to be in a pop band Streetwize and then Industry, where we had two No. 1 singles on the Irish Singles Chart in 2009. We even supported The Pussycat Dolls on tour so I had this complete alternative career for a short while.
Thanks, Donal, it’s been such a pleasure meeting you! Next time you’re out in Singapore please come out with your wife and son – there’s so much for kids to enjoy in Singapore!
Meals in Minutes Cook Book GIVEAWAY! [GIVEAWAY CLOSED]
The Asia premiere of Meals in Minutes (Series 1) is on Saturday, 11 May 2019 at 7:45pm, exclusively on BBC Lifestyle (StarHub Channel 432). Catch up with the series on BBC Player.