This week, in our Friends of The Happy Pear series, we chat with Irish food writer, television presenter, food photographer, and YouTuber, Donal Skehan. Earlier this year, along with his wife, Sofie, and dog, Max, Donal made the move from Howth in Dublin, to sunny California, and he hasn’t looked back. While Donal’s life in LA is full-on, things are about to get even busier, as he is soon to become a dad! We caught up with Donal, to chat all things food, how the LA lifestyle has influenced him, and his plans for parenthood. Enjoy!

Where did you get your passion for food and cooking?

I grew up with parents who worked in the food business, so I was always surrounded by fresh fruit and veggies. I became interested in food because of that. My mum is a great cook and she really inspired my passion for food.

You live in California now, has your new home influenced the way you eat and cook?

Living in California has definitely influenced the way we eat and cook. It’s hot most of the time here – at the moment its 39 degrees – and, as much as an Irish person would think that sounds lovely, when you are actually living in it, it’s quite hard to deal with the heat all the time! We eat a lot lighter out here because of that. Funny enough, we actually eat quite a lot more vegetarian meals here, because I find that I just can’t take as much heavy food. The healthy food scene here is great, and it’s presented in quite an approachable way. We just found a great café the other day, called, Honey Hi, and they really encapsulate a good approach to hearty and wholesome, but also healthy, recipes. I think it’s that sort of thing that you see across California; where it’s food that makes you feel like you are eating hearty food, but you are getting lots of health benefits too. Most restaurants out here have that healthy element to them.

What is your favourite meal of the day?

My favourite meal is dinner, because I can relax into it, and it gives me the opportunity at the end of a long day, to unwind and play around in the kitchen.

What are the top 3 ingredients you couldn’t live without?

I’m obsessed with Asian food, so my three key ingredients would be garlic, ginger and chili. You just can’t go wrong with those three, and they always make up the beginning of my favourite meals.

What is your favourite veggie recipe?

Dahl is my go-to veggie recipe because you can put all the ingredients into one pot and it’s all store cupboard stuff. All you need are some red lentils, tins of tomato, coconut milk and spices, and you leave it to stew together, for about 20 minutes. It’s the ultimate comfort food but it’s also extremely healthy, so it ticks a lot of boxes. I have a recipe for it on my website.

You have travelled so much over the years, where has been your favourite foodie destination?

Hands down, Vietnam. It’s one of the best foodie destinations you can go to. There is street food on every corner and some of the freshest stuff. The best thing about it is that each of the street food vendors have been cooking for over thirty or forty years, so they are experts in their field. You’re guaranteed to get a good meal that you don’t have to pay too much for either.

What is the one meal from Ireland that you miss the most?

I miss the comfort food from Ireland; like the stews my mam would make. It’s funny – out here, I am the Irish cook, so I get wheeled out to make the recipes like Beef and Guinness Stew, and all the classic Irish dishes, but, actually, it’s been so lovely to make it for people here, as you forget that people really are drawn to that sort of comfort food. You can’t beat an Irish stew. To be honest though, you can’t make it as good out here as you can at home.

Do you have a morning routine?

My morning routine plays a big part in my world. A few years ago, I didn’t have a routine and I hadn’t been making sure that I was getting the most out of every day, and I kind of hit a wall. Establishing a morning routine was key to helping me find my way back and I find now that it really helps me to focus my brain. The core things I like to do are regular meditation (using an app on my phone) and hot yoga. Hot yoga is my jam! I do that on a regular basis and, if I don’t make it to a class, I will try to do fifteen minutes of yoga at home instead. Then, I always bring my dog, Max, for a walk, and I will always try and get a green smoothie for breakfast. A green smoothie is my go-to breakfast every morning, and it’s very much part of my little routine – without it, my day just doesn’t feel right! I try to do one, or all of those things, every morning.

Is keeping fit important to you? What exercise do you enjoy doing?

I have been doing yoga on and off, since I was about nineteen, but, over the last five years, I have got into it more. Hot yoga is really my thing now. I like running but I can’t do it, because my knees get really sore for some reason, so I don’t run. I also like to swim; my dad used to be a great swimmer (and still is) and he brought us to the pool when we were young, so I have rediscovered that too.

You and Sofie are about to become parents! Congratulations! What are you looking forward to the most about being a dad? Do you plan on making food a big part of your little one’s life?

I am very conscious that I don’t want to push food down the baby’s throat, as I want it to find food in its own way. When it comes to being a dad, you just want to inspire your kid and encourage them, and make sure that they find their own way. The advice I have got from other parents, is that your kid is going to become its own person, with its own personality and opinions, and the more you try to push stuff down its throat, the more you run into trouble. Our aim is to let this kid grow up the way it wants to, while including all the guidelines that we are passionate about, as much as possible.

You have a huge YouTube and social media following. What is life really like as a TV chef and YouTuber?

There is so much that goes on behind the scenes of what we do. Obviously, when you are on camera and people see you on TV, they see the end product, but no one sees all the packing up of vans and the cooking for three days before hand; all of that is a big part of what we do. Certainly, now that we are out here, we don’t have as strong a team as we did back home, so we have had to try to reestablish all that. I have just come off filming a twelve-part TV series, where I was travelling across Asia. It looks glamorous and amazing, but I worked from six in the morning, until ten at night, and I literally had one day off, over the course of two months. That’s when it comes back to having those morning routines and those things that are important to you, because when you are so busy, and you don’t have those things, it can be easy to loose yourself a little bit. Even though it might seem a bit strange to tell people you won’t be around until 8am because you have to do yoga first, keep to those things, because if you let go of them, you do find yourself falling sick or getting too tired. Finding things that give you energy and are positive, are key. I won’t say that it’s hard, as there are great benefits to the job I do, but I do think it’s important to address those things that make you tired.

Your dog, Max, also has quite a following! Is he enjoying the LA lifestyle?

He is loving the LA life! He’s had a brilliant time; he’s come paddle boarding with me in Malibu and he’s been to Vegas, it’s amazing! In America, it’s much easier to bring your dogs places, as no one really looks twice at you if you have your dog with you in a restaurant. It’s great in that sense, as he can be with us most of the time, but he was kind of like that in Ireland anyway. He is getting very excited, because there have been buggies and car seats arriving, and now he has to sit in the back of the car, next to the baby’s car seat. He doesn’t know what is about to hit him, but he is aware that something is happening because of all these new objects arriving in the house!

Now for our quick fire round of questions! Where we grill our guests on a variety of topics to get to know them a little more!..

Our Happy Pear Happy Hummus or Sweet Beet Hummus?

Happy Hummus.

What is your coffee order?

Macchiato.

If you were a fruit or vegetable what would you be?

A lime – because I am so zesty!

Our Happy Pear Country Veg soup or Tomato Red Pepper and Basil Soup?

Tomato, Red Pepper and Basil.

Do you have a nickname?

‘Doni’!

How do you like to eat our Nuts about Choc spread?

Straight from the tub!

What is your greatest fear?

Ah! I don’t know! That’s a tough question! I’ll have to pass on this one!

What is the one thing you can’t live without?

My lovely wife, Sofie.

Are you a morning or night person?

Morning.

What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten?

I visited a tribe in Northern Vietnam and they cooked me this massive platter of suckling pig. I also ate a field rat in Vietnam. It was marinaded in chilli, garlic and lots of lemongrass, and it was quite tasty, believe it or not!

Describe yourself in three words.

Fun, upbeat, and annoyingly cheerful!

What are your words of wisdom?

Try to push people up, rather than pull people down, and surround yourself with people who pull you up, rather than pull you down.
If you want to keep up with what Donal is up to, then check out his website www.donalskehan.com. You can also follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Donal’s latest book Eat. Live. Go. Fresh Fast Food, is available to buy in all good bookstores and on Amazon. 
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Wohoooo! Nice one, dudes.