Cork Prison has hosted a pop-up restaurant for over 50 guests in a first of its kind event for the Prison Service in Ireland.

"The Open Door" restaurant was staffed by six inmates who ranged in age from their late teens to early 30s.

The prisoners undertook an intensive eight-week cooking course under experienced chef and Munster Technological Union lecturer JJ Healy and received their certification on-site this evening.

It is hoped that the Practical Culinary Skills programme, which provides accreditation, will in time potentially offer a solution of sorts to the chronic shortage of chefs in hotels and restaurants nationwide.

Earlier, inmates Paolo and Paddy were visibly excited about cooking a menu of four starters, two main courses and a Cork Mess Pavlova dessert for their guests on Rathmore Road.

Paddy said that it was heartening to think that his time in prison wasn't being wasted.

"Even though we are incarcerated, we are in jail, we actually got to do something with it. We are not just looking back saying 'what did we do? We did nothing."

"We are coming out of here with a qualification. We are coming out of here with experience."

Paddy stressed that working with his inspirational mentor, JJ Healy, was giving him a window in to a world of opportunities that are out there for him.

"Talking to JJ you learn a lot from him. He is a wonderful man. Sound out. I am looking forward to getting out and getting in to the kitchen."

Paddy indicated that his hope is to make his family and girlfriend proud.

He said: "A lot of people think that it is hard being in prison but when you come to prison you realise that it is a lot harder on your family. It is not only you who has to do a sentence it is everyone who loves you. Everyone who cares for you.

"When you are doing what you are doing to get yourself in to jail you are not thinking of anyone but yourself. You have to think of others.

"My mother, she is proud. And my girlfriend is proud I am doing this. That I am actually going to get something out of it. Because jail is no place for anyone to come."

Meanwhile, Paolo, who had far less cooking experience than Paddy when he started the course, said that he was delighted to be acquiring new skills.

"I have learned a lot. Cutting skills and how to make things properly. I am 100% excited about this evening.

A bit nervous as well. I am looking to do Higher Education in Hospitality then on the outside and am hoping to become a head chef."

Paolo emphasised that his focus was on his family going forward as he knows the pain his incarceration has caused them.

"Personally I don't want to put my family through what they have been through. They are stressed on the outside and worried about me. With the MTU course they are happy now with me at the moment."

The pop-up restaurant is a collaboration between the Department of Tourism & Hospitality at MTU, IASIO and Cork Education and Training Board.

Mentor JJ Healy, who taught the culinary course, said that giving people a "second chance" is so vital in life.

He said: "Everyone deserves a second chance. You come in. You do your time. Twenty years ago when I was in America my friend who trained with me was a chef in Washington DC and he introduced me to his head chef who had trained through the prison system in America. That was twenty years ago and it wasn't considered strange.

"We should be doing it. We are crying out for people to come into the industry. With the pandemic it is a good time for people to come out (of prison) and get jobs because the wages are better, the hours are better and the job conditions are better."

Mr Healy said that the six participants in the programme will this evening receive certification having completed a fully endorsed university module. He is delighted with the response to the training.

He said: "Coming into prison (to teach) there is a bit of trepidation in the beginning. But that was gone after a week after that. I don't see any difference from teaching down in the University. The lads have great interest. That is the one thing you have to have is interest and reliability. The rest will come.

"Tonight they are going to meet people from industry who are potential employers. Two or three will get jobs tonight from this because they are being released soon. Chefs are very good at giving people a chance.

"But for the grace of God anyone of us could be in here. A slip or you could do something. Everyone deserves a second chance."