SIX prisoners who have completed an intensive eight-week culinary skills programme in Cork Prison served up a four-course meal last night to 60 people, some of them potential future employers.
The corridors of Cork Prison are bright, modern and clean, but those big metal doors are heavy and when they slam shut the echoes are loud and ominous.
When The Echo visited yesterday, the landing of B3 division had a series of tables laid out for dinner. If the setting, with the round landing secured and barred, was incongruous, the menu looked delicious.
The starter course offered a choice of roast butternut and chilli pancetta croutons, chicken tikka skewers, smoked salmon with lemon creme fraiche, or tomato bruschetta, with a main course of roasted loin of pork or a triple-cooked glazed pork belly. Dessert was pavlova, followed by tea and coffee with peanut butter chocolate cups.
The Open Door, a pop-up restaurant in the prison, is the culmination of a pilot scheme being co-managed by the Irish Prison Service, the department of tourism and hospitality at Munster Technological University (MTU), and the MTU’s Access Service.
The ‘practical culinary skills’ programme provides prisoners with a thorough training in culinary skills as they prepare meals three times a day in the “live” setting of a working kitchen that caters for the prison’s 260-plus population, giving them skills that will improve their employment prospects upon release from prison.
William, one of the prisoners participating in the programme, is 35 years old and said he hoped to gain employment in the hospitality sector when he released from prison later this week.
“There are some people coming from where I’m from tonight and I’m hoping to speak with them,” he said.
Cork Prison governor Peter O’Brien told The Echo he believed the positive experience of prisoners who completed the course would have a ripple effect of opportunity for prisoners and their families.
What we’re hoping is that because they have had a positive experience of education in prison, that they would go on to further education or training outside of prison.
He said that he hoped the prisoners “would pass on that positive experience of education on to their children or on to their siblings and encourage them to finish school, do their Junior Cert, do their Leaving Cert, and then go on to college, or a trade, or a profession”.
MTU president Maggie Cusack said the university was very proud to be able to help prisoners gain 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,” Professor Cusack said.
Mr O’Brien said the governor of Mountjoy Prison would be one of the invited guests and he was hopeful the course could be replicated across all prisons.