Cork inmates run pop-up restaurant after cooking class


A chef hopes a group of prisoners who held an event at a pop-up restaurant on Tuesday night can get jobs in the food industry when they are released.

Cork Prison’s Open Door restaurant was staffed by six inmates in a first for the Irish Prison Service.

Participants completed an eight-week accredited cooking course under the direction of chef and lecturer from Munster University of Technology (MTU), JJ Healy.

It is hoped that the practical culinary skills program can in the future help alleviate the shortage of chefs in the state’s hospitality sector, which has worsened since the pandemic.

Two attendees, Paolo and Paddy, said they were delighted to cook a menu of four starters, two main courses and a ‘Cork mess Pavlova’ dessert for their 50 guests.

Mr Healy said there was “a bit of apprehension” at first about coming to a prison to teach inmates, but he now views it in the same way as his job at 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 chef who had trained in the American prison system. It was 20 years ago and it wasn’t considered strange.


Paddy said it was heartening to think his time in prison was not wasted. “We come out of here with a qualification. We come out of here with experience.

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

“My mom, she’s proud, and my girlfriend is proud that I’m doing this, that I’m really going to get something out of this, because prison is not a place no one can come to.”

Paolo, who was a less experienced cook than Paddy at the start of the course, said he wanted to continue what he had learned after his release.

“I’m looking to do higher education in hospitality and then outside and hope to become a chef,” he said. “Personally, I don’t want my family to go through what they went through. They are stressed out and worried about me. With the MTU course, they are now happy with me.

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

Mr Healy said it was vital to give people “a second chance” at life. “Tonight, they will meet people from the industry who are potential employers. Two or three will find jobs tonight because of this as they will soon be released,” he said.

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


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