Colette Woods has spent twenty years researching, preparing and eating raw food. After many years of ill health she decided to abandon traditional medicine and decided to improve her own health and wellbeing by switching to a raw diet. She set up her business, “Go Go Raw” (www.gogoraw.com), to teach workshops promoting the great health benefits of raw food as well as preparing raw food, like her special puddings and cakes, for parties and private catering.
I went to meet her at Common Farm in Somerset (www.commonfarmflowers.com), the home of the flower farmer, Georgie Newbery, and her artist and sculptor husband, Fabrizio Boccha. I had enrolled in a “Go Go Raw: Raw Food and Vitality Workshop”, which is a demonstration led course, where the participants taste and learn all about living on just raw food.
As Colette explained to me before the course, it is quite difficult in life to just eat raw food all of the time, and she herself does eat some cooked food every now and then. Her own diet at home is approximately 70-80% derived from raw foods.
“Everything about good dieting and good health is balance and harmony. There will be times when you eat out, go out to dinner with friends or are travelling when you will not be able to avoid cooked foods. But what I want to show in these workshops is how varied and interesting a raw food diet can be and also I want to explain how the more raw food you eat, the healthier you will become.” Colette enthuses that a raw food diet is really simple, easy to prepare, fuss free and above all very frugal, which is particularly important at these times of spiralling food costs. Of course, if we all also concentrate on growing as much organic food for our own plates as possible, so much the better.
Common Farm House lends itself perfectly to workshops and courses. All around you is a beautiful organic cut flower, fruit and vegetable, wildflower and herb plantation, replete with beehives, ponds and natural habitats. You enter into a huge reception room, with a big wooden, rectangular table, where the workshops take place. Next door there is a very big kitchen, with tall ceilings and beautiful views. All the food is served on tactile hand thrown terracotta plates and bowls and hand-painted platters which Georgie and Fabrizio have bought and inherited over the years.
Colette used to be a private cook for the record producer Peter Gabriel, and she used to make lunches at his music studio for many famous recording artists. “I did not really know who many of them were, actually, I was never star struck at all. Maybe that is why they chose me to do the job.”
To start the course Colette explained how raw and living foods contain enzymes, which aid our digestion of food and our ability to absorb all the nutritional goodness derived from food. By heating our food over a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, we are actually destroying these enzymes and many of the nutrients that exist in food.
Raw foods also help to balance the PH of our bodies, which should be in the region of 7.2%. Because we live in a very stressful, modern society, where meals tend to be rushed and there is a high prevalence of industrially produced ready meals, the PH of our bodies can be quite acidic, below 6.5%. The degenerative diseases of old age, like diabetes, arthritis and cancer are thought to be closely linked with high acidity.
A raw food diet, or one where 80% of the foods consumed are still in their raw state, will raise the alkalinity of our bodies.
Colette wants to move away from the “hippie” or “sack cloth and ashes” image of raw food diets, and wants to show that raw food diets are actually be delicious, fragrant, colourful and interesting. So she starts by showing us a very aromatic drink made by soaking almonds in water. The wet almonds are then added to clean water and are whizzed through a juicer. She has an omni-blender and recommends buying a really good blender and juicer, in order to prepare the recipes from this course.
Next we drink a refreshing, vibrant green smoothie, made from spinach, mango and celery. You may well think that it sounds rather strange, but I can assure you that it was lovely. It was packed with antioxidants, helping to fight free radicals, which are also the cause of many degenerative diseases.
It is also important to note that all chlorophyll containing green vegetables lower cholesterol, one of the many contributors to heart disease.
A very basic banana ice cream follows. Colette takes frozen bananas and blends till smooth with vanilla extract and a little lemon juice. When sweetening is required Colette uses agave juice, which is a much more nutritious and natural product than refined sugar, and, of course, completely raw.
The “Go go raw” recipes are dairy and wheat free and so they are very appropriate for those that suffer food intolerances.
For our main courses we ate a spicy Thai soup, made with garlic, coriander, lime juice, chilli, hemp oil, celery, a sundried tomato and spring onion. In literally a few minutes we had a delicious, light, colourful soup to enjoy, the flavours very intense and lively. It is amazing how cooking dulls certain flavours.
In order to make a raw lasagne Colette layered very thin slices of courgette with a very tasty tomato sauce and olives. The piece de resistance for me was when Colette brought out a very interesting gadget, called a “Spirali” made by a company called Lurch, which nobody in the class had ever seen before. Quite literally it takes a courgette, holds it in a clamp and then a cutter creates round “spaghetti” shapes out of it. These courgette “spaghetti” spirals were served in a salad with lemon juice, poppy seeds, agave, lemon, garlic and olive oil. It was really excellent, and it came served with raw “tarts” of tomatoes and mushrooms which Colette had placed in a dehydrator which dries food out on a rack at a temperature of less than the crucial 118 degrees Fahrenheit.
Colette recommends using cold pressed oils only as well as Pink Himalayan Rock salt which she says is highly nutritious, pure and full of minerals.
There was a great deal of focus on this course on the power of the cacao bean. Pure cacao is raw chocolate, and it is full of anti-oxidants, rich in sulphur and magnesium, and phenyl ethylamine, which is a chemical released when we are in love, which is why eating dark chocolate makes you feel so good. Colette made a very beautiful raw chocolate cake for us, whose base was made out of dates, nuts and raw cacao powder. The frosting was made from cacao powder and agave and the topping was fresh strawberries. It was very sweet, moist, rich with a very deep and earthy flavour from the raw chocolate.
From raw cheese, to chocolate truffles, to raw nut and vegetable “burgers” and fresh pesto, our recipe sheets gave us all a much wider repertoire of raw dishes to try at home. I certainly benefitted from the experience, as my basic raw food diet for many years has been crudités with about four or five different dips, salads and fresh fruit. I also met a number of very interested people on the course, among them Catherine Bradley, the owner of the At the Chapel restaurant and bakery in Bruton, very nearby. She came on the course because a number of her customers have expressed their love of raw food dishes on the Menu.
Colette explained to us how we can incorporate some raw dishes in all our diet, even if we do not feel like committing 100% to only raw food, and how to get children to try more raw food options. She does not blind you with science or new-age psycho-babble, which is refreshing. Raw food diet books are recommended and a useful list of the foods you will need in your fridge and larder are also provided.
I spoke to Georgie Newbery after the course, and she told me that there will be further floristry and gardening workshops at Flower Farm. After enjoying Colette’s delicious lunch, and when the teas and coffees are being passed round, I took a walk to the sweet pea wheelbarrow at the front of the property, and wandered around the flower plantation. There are rows and rows of organically grown, seasonal British flowers, grown under the sun, in poly-tunnels, in pots and in raised beds, with birds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees and ladybirds in plentiful supply. Wherever the eye rests, mother nature and all her beauty can be found.
This course and location certainly promote health, understanding, relaxation and well-being. It is a highly liberating experience too. For so long the minds of cooks have been geared towards providing the very predictable “meat and two veg” course, and a dinner party is not a dinner party unless the hostess slaves and sweats away for hours over a hot stove, roasting, baking, boiling or grilling. A raw food diet removes those unnecessary shackles and frees the cook: we need to think outside the box. The ideas behind raw food diets may have seemed egregious and "alternative" for many years, but now they are at the centre of mainstream thinking. If you have never tried a raw diet before, then this course would be a really useful introduction.
Colette Wood’s website is at: www.gogoraw.com
Contact Colette Woods: firstname.lastname@example.org
Common Farm website: www.commonfarmflowers.com
Follow Georgie Newbery on Twitter: @TheFlowerFarmer.