Pop-up restaurant for prisoners in Cork proves a slammer-dunk for its guests

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The clinking of keys and cell doors was replaced by the clinking of cutlery and glasses in Cork Jail for a while on Tuesday evening as it became the first prison in Ireland to host a pop-up restaurant.

Six inmates who completed his new practical cooking skills program prepared a four-course meal for 56 specially invited guests, including 22 hoteliers and restaurateurs, who were seated in the prison’s education unit and on landing B3 in part of the unique ‘Open Door’ event.

Quality ramp-up

The six inmates worked in the prison kitchen, serving three meals a day to up to 260 inmates. But tonight’s meal was a serious upgrade in quality and pressure, with a starter platter including roast butternut squash and chilli with pancetta croutons, smoked salmon with lemon creme fraiche and bruschetta to tomato.

A pork duo was the star of the main platter. It featured an oven-roasted pork loin, coated in mustard and herbs, served with a tomato and tarragon sauce, and triple-cooked pork belly, served with fondant potatoes and roasted root vegetables flavored with honey, herbs and sea salt. The vegetarian option was the chickpea and wild mushroom jalfrezi, with braised rice.

One of the prisoner chefs, William, 35, who is due to be released on Thursday, said: ‘We normally cook chicken curry, bacon and cabbage, steak, pork chops – you take it as you come . But it tastes much better than what I ate.

Although he had some cooking skills before being imprisoned, he said he learned a lot on the course, including knife skills.

“I was very slow with a knife but I learned a lot about how to work the knife faster. I would like to continue outside.”

Among the guests was a potential employer from his hometown, a place where he hopes to find work soon.

Another inmate, Paddy, 18, who worked as a full-time chef before being jailed, also said he hoped to pursue a career as a chef on his release.

“The course was a refresher, going back to the kitchen, picking up your skills rather than sitting in the cells. I improved my knife skills and learned to work in this kind of kitchen environment. It was awesome,” he said.

The event was organized by the Irish Prison Service in association with the Department of Tourism and Hospitality at Munster University of Technology (MTU), the Irish Association for Social Inclusion Opportunities (IASIO), which helps find accommodation and work for newly released prisoners, and Cork Education and Training Board (CETB), which has run educational programs in Cork Prison for around 40 years.

The culinary course was developed after MTU held a series of initiation lectures in the prison. Several inmates expressed interest in learning more about culinary skills and the pilot culinary program was established.

JJ Healy, a lecturer in MTU’s Department of Tourism and Hospitality, teaches culinary skills to participants of The Open Door program at Cork Prison. Photo: Darragh Kane

Six selected inmates, described as model prisoners, attended the education unit twice a week for eight weeks where they were tutored by MTU cooking instructor JJ Healy and an MTU home economics instructor. CETB prison education unit.

This evening, Mr Healy supervised inmates in the kitchen of the training unit as they cooked up a storm for guests including Cork Prison Governor Peter O’Brien and MTU President, Maggie Cusack.

Mr O’Brien said the course taught prisoners that they could work in a professional restaurant kitchen.

“People are sent to jail as punishment and the punishment is loss of freedom,” he said. “But when you’re on the inside, you have the opportunity to correct your offending behavior, you have the opportunity to come out of prison a better person.

“And if you leave prison being a better person than the person you entered, and if you come out and do not commit a crime, then we reduce the number of victims.

“It’s about leaving prison with a structured release plan to pursue education, work or training to break this cycle. That’s the positive story we need to tell people after tonight.

Prof Cusack said that as well as boosting inmate confidence, the course could also help the hospitality industry deal with a staff shortage.

“We are absolutely sure that the lessons learned here mean that this could be rolled out to other correctional facilities,” she said.

IASIO director of operations Barry Owens said Bórd Fáilte had discovered earlier this year that a shortage of qualified personnel was one of the biggest obstacles to the sector’s recovery from the pandemic, with nearly a third of the hotel businesses surveyed risk closing until they can find these staff.

“There’s a huge untapped workforce here in the criminal justice system and it’s worth looking beyond the conviction to see the person and see maybe there are solutions for them here. “, did he declare.

IASIO can provide direct advice to potential employers concerned about hiring ex-convicts, he said.

John Fitzgibbons, director of continuing education and training at CETB, said the vast majority of inmates who attend an education or training program in prison gain something significant.

See the opportunities

“For some it may be the ability to read and write, but they also gain confidence, they gain the ability to see opportunities for themselves,” he said.

“It also gives employers the opportunity to see that they were men who made mistakes, but they have now learned a skill and they could become a very valuable addition to their workforce when they leave.

“They need someone to take a bit of a risk and trust them, that the person coming out is a person with skills, not a prisoner with skills.”

Noel Murray, head of MTU’s tourism and hospitality department, said the course not only developed prisoners’ skills, but gave them insight into the opportunities available to them after release. . And he said it opened the eyes of employers to the potential of the talent pool in prisons.

“We’re very aware of the critical shortages of chefs in the industry which I think will really be seen as the season progresses, so it’s something different, it’s a pool of talent that n hasn’t been looked at in the past and it’s an opportunity for these guys to have something when they leave,” he said.

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