Between a big move to the US and a baby on the way, Donal and Sofie Skehan’s life has been transformed over the past year.
“It’s all happened very quickly, but there is nothing like a baby to make you feel like you’re at home somewhere,” says Donal.
The chef, who has recently wrapped up Meals in Minutes on RTÉ, admits that it’s been a whirlwind few years. However, the Skehans have been eyeing up a Stateside move for quite a while.
“I started a YouTube channel a few years ago, and we just identified California as a real hub for YouTube creators,” explains Donal. “Our channel has nearly half a million subscribers now. We wanted to come out and see what that was like and explore the opportunities here.
“I also had a show on The Food Network with Tia Mowry (of Sister Sister fame) … that was kind of what brought us out here to start with. It’s been just going from strength to strength.”
Indeed, Donal’s YouTube channel has taken a new direction since the move and includes more lifestyle content, from pregnancy updates to travel tips. Sofie, who is used to working behind the scenes, is also in front of the camera.
Speaking to the camera
“It’s a modern-day photo album – I love being able to look back at the videos. It was harder to speak on camera than I thought it would be but I’ll get used to it,” Sofie says.
“When I was growing up, I used to video camera everything,” says Donal. “In a way, the YouTube channel makes you create something from those. You end up with these nice segments of life and things to look back on.”
It is very clear that Donal and Sofie are a team in every sense. They met 10 years ago in Bray when Sofie was visiting a half-Irish, half-Swedish friend – five months later, she moved to Ireland to be with Donal. They started working together seven years ago.
“It’s been pretty intense but we’ve really learned how to work together,” says Donal.
“We know when to step back and give each other space, tear the head off each other when we need to, and get back into the good books. It’s probably like most relationships. You know what buttons to push and you learn the best way to get around it.”
Sofie agrees: “I don’t know how we would not do it now. You get to share everything. There are often ups and downs, but being able to go through it together makes things a lot easier. I think we’re very lucky that we can work the way we work together.”
However, work can sometimes get in the way of the relationship. Such was the case recently on their second year wedding anniversary.
“You know what we did? We worked a 10-hour day. We had a food photography shoot, and I blame Sofie because she booked the whole thing on our anniversary. It was highly unromantic,” jokes Donal.
Though California was a culture shock initially, Donal’s style of cooking has translated well across the water.
“You think that you’re both speaking the same language but you’re not. You could say: ‘I’m going to put the shopping in the boot,’ and they will look at you blankly and have no idea what you’re talking about because they say: ‘the groceries in the trunk’,” says Donal.
“My cooking is all based on easy, doable recipes that anyone could give a go. That translates well when you come to America because they are all looking for quick and fast recipes, and stuff you can actually make. That has worked out extremely well, bar providing cup measurements, which is mind numbing,” – “and calling coriander, cilantro,” interjects Sofie – “and little vocabulary things, which I don’t want to do too much because I don’t want to lose my Irishness.”
When moving to the US, it looked unlikely that Donald Trump would be president. Have they noticed a change in mood in the country?
“Everyone has very different opinions. In Europe there seems to be one opinion towards Trump. You come to America and not everyone shares that opinion. You have to be aware of that and you certainly don’t talk about politics as openly in terms of who you side with. From our point of view, it doesn’t make a huge impact on our lives here,” says Donal.
“And LA is still very liberal,” adds Sofie.
“There is so much coverage in the press and it’s always so in your face,” Donal continues. “But you can step out of that bubble to and I think it’s important to. There is a lot of fear in the media and it’s not good for the soul to be constantly aware of that.”
Their first baby is due this autumn and will be born in the US. Donal stresses that the couple won’t lose their Irish identity.
“We’re not trying to become American, we’re Irish through and through and Sofie is Swedish too,” he adds.
Sofie is happy to seize the moment with Donal.
“I think you always miss home in the back of your mind, and you want to be close to family, but I think this is the time in our lives to do as much as we can. I’m very excited that we get to try this now.” CL