Cork prisoners show off their cooking skills at a pop-up restaurant

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SIX prisoners who completed an intensive eight-week culinary skills program at Cork Jail served a four-course meal to 60 people last night, some of whom were potential future employers.

The corridors of Cork Jail are bright, modern and clean, but those large metal doors are heavy and when they close the echoes are loud and disturbing.

When echo Visited yesterday, B3 Division Landing had a series of tables set for dinner. While the setting, with the round secure and barred landing, was incongruous, the menu looked delicious.

The entrée offered a choice of roasted butternut squash and chilli pancetta croutons, chicken tikka skewers, smoked salmon with lemon crème fraîche, or tomato bruschetta, with a main course of pork loin roast or a triple-cooked glazed pork belly. Dessert was the pavlova, followed by tea and coffee with peanut butter chocolate cups.

JJ Healy, Lecturer MTU Tourism and Hospitality Department teaching cooking skills to Open Door program participants ahead of the Open Door event at Cork Jail. Photo Darragh Kane.

The Open Door, a pop-up restaurant in the prison, is the culmination of a pilot project co-managed by the Irish Prison Service, the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at Munster Technological University (MTU) and the Service of MTU access.

The “Practical Culinary Skills” program provides inmates with in-depth training in culinary skills as they prepare meals three times a day in a “live” setting of a working kitchen that caters to the population of over 260 people from prison, giving them skills that will improve their job prospects upon release.

William, one of the prisoners on the scheme, is 35 and said he hopes to find a job in the hospitality industry when he is released from prison later this week.

“There are people who are from where I’m from tonight and I hope to talk to them,” he said.

Barry Owens, IASIO Director of Operations, John Fitzgibbon, Cork ETB, Peter O'Brien, Cork Prison Governor, MTU Chairman Prof Maggie Cusack and Dr Noel Murray, Head of Department of Tourism &;  MTU Hospitality at the Open Door event at Cork Jail.  Photo Darragh Kane
Barry Owens, IASIO Director of Operations, John Fitzgibbon, Cork ETB, Peter O’Brien, Governor of Cork Prison, MTU Chairman Prof Maggie Cusack and Dr Noel Murray, Head of MTU Tourism and Hospitality Department during the Open Door event at Cork Jail. Photo Darragh Kane

Cork Prison Governor Peter O’Brien said echo he believed that the positive experience of prisoners taking the course would have a ripple effect on opportunities for prisoners and their families.

What we hope is that because they have had a positive experience of education in prison, they will continue their education or training outside of prison.

He said he hoped the prisoners “would pass on this positive experience of education to their children or siblings and encourage them to complete their education, do their Junior Cert, do their Leaving Cert, and then go to university, or a trade or a profession.

MTU President Maggie Cusack said the university takes great pride in being able to help prisoners learn new skills.

“Many of the guests at the pop-up restaurant will be potential employers and that is important, particularly given the many vacancies currently in tourism and hospitality in Ireland,” said Professor Cusack.

Mr O’Brien said the Governor of Mountjoy Prison would be one of the guests and he hoped the course could be replicated in all prisons.

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