Cork inmates run pop-up restaurant after culinary course

Lecturer hopes prisoners can find jobs in food sector after their release amid chef shortage

A chef is hopeful that a group of prisoners who ran a pop-up restaurant event on Tuesday evening can secure jobs in the food industry on their release.

The Open Door Restaurant at Cork Prison was being staffed by six inmates in a first for the Irish Prison Service.

The participants completed an accredited eight-week cooking course under chef and Munster Technological University (MTU) lecturer JJ Healy.

It is hoped that the Practical Culinary Skills programme could in future help to ease a shortage of chefs in the State’s hotel and restaurant sector, which has become more acute since the pandemic.

Two participants, Paolo and Paddy, said they were excited about cooking a menu of four starters, two mains and a ‘Cork mess Pavlova’ dessert for their 50 guests.

Mr Healy said there was “a bit of trepidation” initially about coming to a prison to teach inmates but he now regarded it in the same as his work in MTU.

“Twenty years ago, when I was in America, my friend who trained with me was a chef in Washington DC. He introduced me to his head chef who had trained through the prison system in America. That was 20 years ago and it wasn’t considered strange.”

Qualification

Paddy said it was heartening to think that his time in prison was not being wasted. “We are coming out of here with a qualification. We are coming out of here with experience.”

He said he had learned a lot working with Mr Healy and that the course had shown him there is a world of opportunity out there.

“My mother, she is proud, and my girlfriend is proud I am doing this, that I am actually going to get something out of it, because jail is no place for anyone to come.”

Paolo, who was a less experienced cook than Paddy when starting the course, said he was keen to carry on what he had learned after his release.

“I am looking to do higher education in hospitality then on the outside and am hoping to become a head chef,” he said. “Personally I don’t want to put my family through what they have been through. They are stressed on the outside and worried about me. With the MTU course, they are happy now with me.”

The event was a collaboration between MTU, the Irish Association for Social Inclusion Opportunities and Cork Education and Training Board.

Mr Healy said giving people “a second chance” in life is vital. “Tonight they are going to meet people from industry who are potential employers. Two or three will get jobs tonight from this because they are being released soon,” he said.

“Chefs are very good at giving people a chance. But for the grace of God, any one of us could be in here.”