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A raw cookery course with Jay Halford

PUBLISHED: 10:50 12 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:59 12 May 2016

Jay Halford from The Core at The Foodworks cookery school

Jay Halford from The Core at The Foodworks cookery school

© Thousand Word Media

Katie Jarvis visits the Foodworks Cookery School at Colesbourne Park, where chef Jay Halford from The Core, Cheltenham, is teaching the delicious side of life in the raw

It’s quite scary, raw-food cooking. Not because of the raw food, as such (though trying to pronounce key-ingredients such as goji berries and chia seeds can be problematic) (not to mention eating them). But more because, amongst raw foodies, I feel like Ian Hislop at a football match (or David Beckham at a political satirists’ conference, depending on how you look at it).

“Russell James is my hero,” the really nice lady called Sue, sitting next to me, says.

“Go-ji berry,” I reply, confidently.

“And Anna Middleton, who does raw desserts and cakes. She’s amazing.” She shows me pictures on her phone of uncooked (but highly edible) cakes that look so astonishingly good, it makes me realise rehearsed phrases such as “I often eat sandwiches” won’t cut ice in raw-food circles.

“I’ve been on all of her workshops – she does fermentation, which is amazing,” Sue continues.

“Do you never feel you would kill for a glass of Merlot and a Mars Bar?” I ask, in a way that’s possibly more self-revealing than I’d ideally like.

“Never,” Sue replies.

Katie Jarvis making her own vegetable sushiKatie Jarvis making her own vegetable sushi

I’m at the Foodworks Cookery School, brainchild of one of my heroes - the wonderful Harriet Elwes – in Colesbourne. It’s a fabulous space that conjures up the best of experts to run its courses. Today is no exception. Jay Halford, owner of The Core Cheltenham (more on that shortly), is here to lead us, wearing a black t-shirt that sports the legend Nothing tastes as good as healthy feels (other clothes, too; I’m just focusing on the t-shirt); it is, presumably, a riff on the famous Kate Moss saying, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, but without the atrocious hangover and nicotine patches.

We start with a smoothie Jay has made for us from carrot, pineapple, celery, apple and avocado. It is wonderful in a way that I feel my attempt at the same thing possibly wouldn’t be.

Then we’re straight onto nori sushi wraps (nori being Japanese seaweed). We watch Jay make them first – showing us how to coat the seaweed paper-like wraps with smoked paprika sunflower mayonnaise, before piling them with strips of raw veg such as mooli, a sort of Asian white radish, tomato salsa, and cauliflower rice (a cauli chopped into rice-size pieces, with desiccated coconut); finally slicing the finished rolls into neatly-packed rounds. My work-station is next to Kathy and Alistair’s. Kathy is Chinese and loves cooking: “We were given this course as a Christmas present. It’s an eye-opener for me,” she says, delighted with all she’s learning. Alistair is a give-it-a-goer, like me; I secretly look across at his nori wraps to see which of ours look more like miniature luggage involved in a major train derailment. He wins by a whisker.

We munch on our achievements as we watch Jay embark on a raw cheesecake. (And the wraps are delicious – crunchy, fresh, tangy). He tells us, as he works his rather complicated-looking blender (a raw food essential), how he began training as a chef at 16, doing 18-hour days at top-notch establishments such as Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter. Two years’ travelling in Australia introduced him to the concept of raw food (“Though I didn’t take too much notice of it, at the time, because I was too busy partying”). Once back home, he started his own business selling bacon sandwiches, somewhat counter-intuitively; because in January 2015, he achieved his true goal: opening the clean-eating Core Cheltenham in Charlton Kings. As well as healthy food, he offers juice programmes. “It’s not all raw food that we serve,” Jay clarifies, “though it is 100 percent veggie.”

“I love your avocado on toast with poached egg!” says Kate, a Core aficionado, whose two young children are fans, too. “And your cakes! My favourite is your citrus.”

“That’s because it’s not raw,” Jay says, with an admirable degree of honesty.

Those in the masterclass try their hand at making their own vegetable sushiThose in the masterclass try their hand at making their own vegetable sushi

The biggest trick, when ‘cooking’ raw, Jay tells us, is getting flavour into the food. Hence, he introduces us to some of his staples (and not a goji berry amongst them): apple cider vinegar, tamari (a wheat-free soy sauce), nutritional yeast (cheesy flavour and full of B vitamins), Maldon sea-salt, and unrefined sweeteners such as coconut blossom nectar.

Other tips include soaking seeds first – the body digests them better that way – and (Girls!) rubbing avocado on your face for top skin care.

Perhaps my favourites of all we make are the chocolate and coconut truffles, so speedy to roll (kids would love doing this), soft and sweet, and looking good enough to give as presents to friends you actually like.

I have to say, this course makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And the people I meet are great fun, too, ranging from a group of girls along for a get-together-with-a-difference, one of whom recently turned veggie, to a couple of hard-core raw food enthusiasts looking for inspiration.

“You really don’t have to go 100 percent raw,” Jay tells us. “The idea is to incorporate it into your life along with juicing.”

And that is good advice. There’s no doubt that the raw-fooders I’ve met positively zing with health and energy. That’s possibly more to do with the fact that they think hard about their diet than their avoidance of anything cooked. But, hey! There’s a lesson in there for the rest of us.

“Chias!” I say, as I leave. Well, I don’t. But I should have thought of it.

• There’s a whole range of cookery courses on offer at the Foodworks Cookery School at Colesbourne Park (GL53 9NP). Call on 01242 870538 or log onto www.foodworkscookeryschool.co.uk for more information.

• The Core Cheltenham is at 201 London Road, Charlton Kings GL52 6HU, 01242 224898; thecorecheltenham.com. You can also visit Jay’s site www.jayhalford.com and buy a copy of his recipe e-book

Recipe for chocolate and coconut truffles

Ingredients (makes 30 balls)

200g carrot and orange pulp

15 dates

100g cacao powder

75g almonds (grind first)

20g coconut oil

Teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

50ml coconut nectar

100g coconut chips

Desiccated coconut for rolling the outside

Method

Grind the nuts in a food processor

Add salt, cacao and cinnamon

Blend in the dates

Add the pulp

Bring together with coconut oil nectar

Add in half the desiccated coconut and mix well

Roll the mix into balls; then roll in the desiccated coconut

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