Irish prisoners turning lives around with game-changing cooking course behind bars – including pop up restaurant

These prisoners say they’re turning their lives around after taking part in a game-changing culinary course behind bars.

The Mirror gained access to Cork Prison on Tuesday, where we spoke to prisoners who are taking part in a new eight-week ‘Practical Culinary Skills’ course that will significantly bolster their job prospects when they’re released.

And as part of the course, prisoners last night hosted a major dinner event — inviting guests from across the hospitality and restaurant industry into the prison for a four-course dinner in a ‘pop-up’ restaurant behind bars named The Open Door.

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Two of the prisoners involved said the course has taught them to turn their lives around — and has given them a real chance at employment in the future.

One of the prisoners we interviewed said he was in for assault, while the other stated he was serving time for a drugs-related offence.

“I’m in for assault. The smallest man in the prison in for assault!” one prisoner joked.

“We learned a lot through this course. I learned about cutting and cooking properly,” the other explained.

“We had a great teacher. And now we’ve got the skills we need for employment.

“I was a chef on the outside but I learned a lot through this,” the prisoner serving time for assault said.

Both men said their time behind bars has taught them a lot about what prison is really like — and neither is eager to ever be locked up again.

Food being prepared by an inmate in the kitchen.
Food being prepared by an inmate in the kitchen.

“Jail is no place for anyone to come, and we learned that the hard way,” one of the prisoners said.

“Everyone makes mistakes and we’ve paid the price now,” the other added.

The course came about through collaboration with the Irish Prison Service, the Department of Tourism & Hospitality at Munster Technological University (MTU), IASIO and Cork Education and Training Board.

Last night, the invited guests sat in the Education unit of Cork Prison, where they were served by students from MTU.

Speaking about the new initiative, Governor of Cork Prison Peter O’Brien said: “I am delighted to announce the launch of this new initiative, The Open Door here at Cork Prison.

“This project will enhance the rehabilitative and employment options for all those who work and train here.”

This pilot programme, which was co-managed by the Irish Prison Service, Department of Tourism and Hospitality and the Access Service and MTU, is designed to train and educate prisoners to improve and develop both their culinary skills and workplace learning.

Cork Prison

Deirdre Creedon, Access Officer at MTU’s Cork Campus, also welcomed the initiative saying: “This initiative developed following a successful MTU Taster Lecture Series in the prison which was delivered by volunteer academic staff.

“There was an interest from the participants to learn more about culinary skills and it was great to be able to design and deliver a Special Purpose Award that allows prisoners an opportunity to avail of learning opportunities and qualifications.”

IASIO Chief Executive Officer Paddy Richardson added: “We fully support this collaborative programme that prepares participants to progress towards further employment, training and education opportunities.

“It has the potential to be replicated elsewhere and link more clients to employers with real, sustainable jobs in the community”.

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