Plant-based food is enjoying a massive boom. But not all vegan food is healthy, especially those coming in a package. Wanting to learn about real vegan food and how to cook it, I booked myself into a plant-based Asian cookery class at the Glass House Retreat in Essex.
Plant-based food is everywhere, and it seems like everyone wants a slice of this pie with new products from burgers to pizza and cheese to lattes are appearing on supermarket shelves daily. Even McDonald’s has given the thumbs up to veganism by launching the McPlant menu. But take one close look at some of the labels, and many of the products contain chemicals and ingredients you don’t understand, while others are most certainly created in a lab.
“How can this possibly be healthy?” I quizzed Miguel Gouveia, the retreat’s head chef and expert in plant-based diets. “Simply put, it’s not. Sadly, a lot of the so-called vegan food is processed and has very little nutritional value. But it’s not that difficult to cook plant-based food. Our aim here is to teach our guests how to create dishes which are tasty and healthy.”
And Miguel knows a thing or two when it comes to such food. At the forefront of a healthy living revolution, the chef spent a year studying plant-based food and graduated at a top school in California before taking the helm at the kitchen at the Glass House Retreat. And I was an eager student.
The Glass House Retreat offers several plant-based cookery courses (Spanish, Italian, Greek, Asian, Middle Eastern) within a dedicated building on site, which you can enrol on as a group, private group or on a one-to-one basis. As a lover of all things spice, it had to be Asian cuisine for me.
With a welcoming refreshing cranberry drink in hand, Miguel went through the various dishes we would be cooking following his lead: miso coleslaw, Asian spring rolls, Thai peanut cauliflower wings, vegan Thai curry and as plant-based foods isn’t without treats, coconut tapioca for pudding.
Miguel said the key to enjoying cooking is preparation. Weigh out the ingredients, chop vegetables and keep the utensils you need to hand. Fresh local produce and organic, where possible, are delivered daily to the retreat, and it’s from this fayre the team create nutritious, calorie-controlled plant-based meals.
Dicing, slicing and throwing colourful foods together as instructed by Miguel proved to be a lot of fun whilst being offered nifty tricks, such as using one hand to dip cauliflower florets into the batter and the other to roll around in breadcrumbs to reduce mess. Another was to slice as much of the pale colour section from the bell peppers to eliminate any bitter taste. Hands-on experience and these tips gave me the confidence to feel I could use these culinary skills at home.
We tasted some of the food as we went along, in chef-mode, but the crème-de-la-crème was the final feast which was laid out at a ready set table. I can hands-on say the food was sensational. It was packed with flavour and incredibly filling. I would defy anyone who could turn their nose up at this food.
This white-cubed retreat protruding from isolated, peaceful green fields in Bulphan is a nod to making small sustainable lifestyle changes as opposed to dramatic life-transforming ones. The gentle light and airy décor, splashes of watercolour paintings adorning the wall and the waft of scented candles permeating the air are sure to relax anyone walking through those glass doors.
Even the Glass House Retreat check-in process is a laid-back affair taking place in the floor-to-ceiling glass lounge, decked with plush mustard and teal chesterfield sofas from where you fill in the necessary forms for your stay, all the while enjoying a health shot.
The incredibly spacious bedrooms are kitted out in light grey and white shades with white orchids dotted around.
There’s an impressive list of activities at the Glass House Retreat from invigorating brisk early morning walks, fitness studio classes, boot camps, water aerobics and boxing. But it’s not just about pushing your body to its limits, for alongside yoga and Pilates, guests can nourish their soul through sound bath sessions, learn about crystal healing and breathwork or meditate in the calming midnight blue-glassed dome.
This place is a sanctuary where you can mould yourself into one of the beanbags at any time of the day (outside any classes) for a bit of ‘me’ time.
There’s further “R and R” to be had at the spa, where you can swim in the heated pool, relax in the cosy sauna or book yourself an indulging treatment. If you’re feeling brave, why not Enter the cryo chamber? Popular with top athletes and celebrities, this ice-cold (-85 °C to -110 °C ) chamber is known to burn fat and soothe sore muscles. Expect to emerge bursting with endorphins after spending five minutes here wearing just swimwear and mittens. Repeat sessions may even help reduce cellulite.
Back to food and meal times in the dining room, complete with a wine glass chandelier, is interesting. Guests make their food choices at breakfast for the rest of the day and the following morning meal. There are lighter menu options for those who want to shed a few pounds, or the Equilibrium one where you can eat a substantial amount but still be healthy.
A few guests at mealtimes were a bit miffed by the portions. But what everyone was in unison with was that the food was outstanding. Daily free food demonstrations mean you can even have a go at recreating some of them once you’ve left. There was nothing on the menu I wouldn’t eat.
And if it’s a health kick you’re after, the Glass House Retreat is a great place to start. There’s no one to preach or bark orders at you, and your stay is what you make it. You’ll have the chance to connect with yourself, recharge your bodies and learn a thing or two about healthy living.
Glass House Retreat – Where and How?
The Glass House Retreat is located at Harrow Road, Bulphan, Essex, RM14 3BP. Prices for the Cooking Classes start from £75 per person and can be booked via 01708 983590. For more information about the retreat or make a booking visit www.glasshouseretreat.co.uk or www.visitessex.com.
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