Donal Skehan, Irish food personality, writer and YouTuber, just finished shooting the new series Food Network Star: Kids alongside Tia Mowry, but his schedule is only getting busier. Skehan recently moved to Los Angeles from Ireland, and between generating weekly content for his YouTube channel and writing about food for the Irish Times, he will be filming a Food Network pilot, presenting Saturday Kitchen on BBC and releasing a new cookbook, Fresh, in the United States.
Here, the lively chef reveals the challenges of mentoring young contestants and shares his top tips for the home cook.
How did you get involved with Food Network Star: Kids?
I’m extremely excited because this is my first ever American TV show. I’ve been doing TV in Ireland and the UK for the last seven years. I’m so excited to finally have something over here. One of the shows I did it the UK was Master Chef Jr., so this is a nice stepping stone into something I’ve had a bit a experience in. It’s been a massive pleasure.
Was it difficult to give them criticism?
I think the difficulty when you’re doing a kids’ cooking show is that you obviously want to give criticism and hope that they’re going to kind of take it on board, but you have to be so careful because you obviously don’t want to upset the kids. And also at that age, you want to fulfill that idea that they’ll continue to cook even if they don’t get through to the next round. It’s really about inspiring these kids and making sure they keep that passion that’s so important for that age. I think if you get knocked so early on and you’re not able for it, it can be difficult to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and go do an amazing job. But kids who really succeed are the ones that do that. I’m always amazed at the talent that some of these young cooks have.
What are you most excited for people to see?
I think I’m most excited for them to see the level of skill that these kids have. You really see things come to life in terms of their food personalities coming out. The most exciting moment of the show was that we were giving them advice and they were taking that on board and cooking even better dishes. If you can see progression on the advice you’re giving, that’s where the reward is in the job for me.
What are your best tips for the home cook?
1. A sharp knife is essential for the home kitchen.
2. Preparation is key—having a well stocked store cupboard will make life easier when you tackle any recipe.
3. Make use of leftovers! Don’t be afraid of making more than you need, the bones of great meals are often in leftovers.
4. Use spices and pastes like harissa, Thai green curry paste and sriracha sauce to make meals come alive.
5. Buy meat on special offer in the supermarket and freeze it so you always have a good stock pile of ingredients.
Can you share a simple at-home recipe?
Healthy muffins are perfect for a quick breakfast on the go. These blueberry and chia seed muffins are packed with healthy ingredients, which will keep you going for any busy morning. I normally make them the night before I have them and grab one or two just before I leave the house.
Blueberry Chia Seed Muffins (Serves 12)
1 cup blueberries
2 bananas, mashed
1 cup plain flour
75g wholemeal flour
2 cups rolled oats
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, separated
3 tbsp of sunflower oil
3 tbsp of chia seeds
3 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of salt
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, rolled oats, baking powder, cinnamon, chia seeds, salt and sugar. Create a well in the dry ingredients and add the banana, egg yolks, milk and oil. Mix everything gently until a wet batter forms. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites and blueberries into the muffin batter until everything is mixed evenly. Divide the muffin mix into individual paper cases and place in an oven for 25 minutes. The muffins keep for 4–5 days in an airtight container and can easily be frozen in zip lock bags. Try swapping out the blueberries for other seasonal berries or even add a handful of cocoa nibs for a chocolatey hit!
See Donal on Food Network Star: Kids, premiering Monday, August 22 at 8/7c on Food Network.