Sunday 23 October 2016

Donal Skehan: 'We used to be so manic we wouldn't stop for lunch'

Donal Skehan (29) is a photographer, food writer, and author of eight books. He's also a TV presenter on RTE, BBC and Food Network, and has his own YouTube channel. He lives in Howth, Co Dublin, with his wife Sofie Larsson-Skehan, and their dog, Max

Emily Hourican

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

Donal Skehan walks his dog around Howth every morning and evening.
Donal Skehan walks his dog around Howth every morning and evening.

In the course of the last year, I've put in a few new routines, so now I'm getting up about an hour-and-a-half earlier than I need to, at about 6am. My days tend to be quite busy, so this is to try and get in a bit of me-time in. I take the dog for a walk around Howth, do a bit of yoga, and make sure I get a good breakfast - that's my morning ritual, and I try and keep to it as much as possible.

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It came about as a result of really figuring out what I want, and realising that one of the big stressful things, for me, was constantly rushing from one place to the next. It's about feeling I've had a bit of the day that  was my own.

I go through a love-hate relationship with porridge. Right now, I'm in love. My juice of the moment is kale, carrot, apple, ginger and a squeeze of lime. So, for breakfast, I have juice, and porridge with honey, whatever nuts and seeds I have around, some cocoa nibs, a spoon of almond butter, and some fruit, maybe. Whatever way I can pimp my porridge, I'll do it. The first work thing we do in the morning is have a meeting. We're a small team - me, Sofie, and our colleague, Joanna Carley - and we run through what's coming up in the week and the day ahead. We might do it at home - or in the car, if we're travelling somewhere. That takes about half an hour, then I'm straight into whatever is happening that day. In my world, every day is different - I could be anywhere in the country, or in another country - so that's also why I cling to my morning and evening rituals; they are something that's consistent. It's been a bit crazy of late - we visited over 10 European cities this summer for the new series.

I try and get a balance between writing and filming, but we're also running a business behind all this, so a lot of time is spent behind the scenes, planning, putting our goals in place, making sure that we're moving things along. During the last year and a half, one of the biggest things for us has been the YouTube channel I launched. I had great support from Jamie Oliver, and we've grown from 5,000 subscribers to over 250,000. The production values have improved so much, and there is a whole lot of thought and planning that needs to go into it. We set up a production company to deal with this; for example, the setting up of filming for five videos is a two or three-day process, and this is all happening in my kitchen. It's a professional operation, and with that comes a lot of work to make sure it's right. But it's great, and lovely to have the control of it, and to be a part of it at this early stage. We're still getting our heads round it, understanding how the ads work and so on, but it's constantly growing, and I find that really exciting. For me, it's not just the public stuff, I find the business side really interesting. And the brilliant thing is, you have a real connection with the audience. You get instant comments on your recipes - what viewers like, what they'd like to see more of.

We used to be so manic that we wouldn't stop for lunch. Then, about a year and a half ago, I said, 'This is ridiculous. I'm working in the world of food, surrounded by food, and yet I'm not stopping for lunch . . .' So we made a conscious effort to have half an hour where we sit down and eat something - either what we've just cooked, or something we prepared in advance, like a healthy salad. But less and less am I turning to the petrol station for something to eat. It's about preparation and planning in advance. That's one of the reasons I've written a healthier-eating book, because that's where I'm at. In a busy day, you can end up not having the time to look after yourself. You grab whatever, and as time goes on, your energy levels suffer. You make bad decisions when you're hungry.

But it's an exciting time for food -people are so much more focussed on that side of things now. The biggest reward I get is hearing from someone who cooked one of my recipes and it worked for them, and they loved it. And if that recipe can be lighter, a little bit fresher, a little bit healthier, then why not? Healthy eating has become the new big thing; it's great. But we have to bear in mind that good food shouldn't come at a price. You can create really simple, tasty dishes with a handful of vegetables and the stuff you have in your store cupboard. You don't have to go and buy all these trendy things.

Normally, we try and finish work at 5pm. If I'm filming, that can be 7pm, and then the drive, so I'll get home at about 8pm. Then, religiously, I will take the dog for a walk, and we're out for about 45 minutes. We do the cliff walk around Howth, and if we can get the sunset, so much better. Now I'm going to sound like I've absolutely lost it, but I started doing meditation, for the last six to eight months, and it has been a real revelation. Before, I would have been the person throwing their eyes up to heaven at the very idea of meditation, but now I think, anything that makes you feel good, do it! Ten or 20 minutes of deep breathing, focussing on how you feel, has been a complete life-changer for me.

In all, it's an hour out of my life; a walk and a bit of deep breathing. Then Sofie and I have a proper meal - leftovers from what we were shooting that day, or something fresh that I'll cook. We'll sit down together, sometimes in front of the TV, but normally at the table. I try not to work in the evenings. I might end up having to cast an eye over what's coming up, but it's not that I'm chained to the desk - unless I'm writing a book, in which case, I write much better in the evenings, so I will write from about 8-10pm. Otherwise, I try and chill out, watch a movie, eat some popcorn, hang out. In any case, because I'm getting up at 6am, bed is normally about 10pm. I'm pretty rubbish after that. But I don't mind that, because I like getting up early and seeing the other side of the day.

Donal Skehan's 'Cook, Eat, Burn', starts on RTE One on November 20

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