Chef of the Month - Jay Halford

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In January's Vegan Living, I interviewed the lovely Jay Halford. I met Jay while prancing about on a yoga retreat in Marbella. Jay was the chef and he delighted me and my fellow yogis with his innovative raw meals. 

Raw is Jay's USP. I didn't even know raw was a thing until I met him, but now I'm a convert. My digestive system had never felt so good, even though I snuck off for a beer mid week. 

Jay shares yummy food porn on his Instagram feed here and there are loads of recipes on his amazing website here. His raw lasagne, made of courgette, pecans, sun-dried tomatoes and other goodies got a standing ovation on our retreat (I have recreated his recipe at home and it was divine) and he also excels in the pudding department. Raw banoffee pie, raw carrot cake using the pulp leftover from juicing, he's the kind of guy you want to chain to your kitchen. Failing that, details of upcoming retreats he'll be at are also on his website.


 
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Jay Halford is a roaming chef specialising in raw food on retreats around the UK, Marbella and Bali. He talks the importance of flavour, dismantling lasagne and vegan surprises.

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Why do you prefer roaming retreats over sticking to one restaurant?

I love to travel and working as a private chef and on retreats gives me so much variety. I get to meet lots of amazing people, experience different cultures, places and kitchens. Every month is different. I might spend a season in Bali, then at a resort in Lechlade called The Lakes By Yoo, where I am a private chef for the residents, guests and corporate clients. I work for three different clients in Shropshire running retreats and bootcamps, and I am chef on a raw food retreat in Marbella. Next year I have South Africa, Romania and India in the diary too. I love that food takes me around the world. I have to sacrifice a few pairs of shorts in my suitcase so I can squeeze in my blender and food processor. They go to so many countries with me they deserve their own passports.

What’s your speciality?

Raw food - the preparation of food without cooking it. I combine my knowledge and passion to change people’s health through what they eat. Raw is a way of eating that promotes a plant based lifestyle consisting of fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and grains. Sometimes there can be confusion over how to make your lifestyle healthier. There are plenty of contradictions online so I like to keep things simple and delicious.

 
 Jay whipping up dishes for the yogis in Marbella.

Jay whipping up dishes for the yogis in Marbella.

 

What's your favourite dish to 'cook'?

My tacos (recipe included) are one of my first creations and are still my go-to for an easy meal. On retreats I’ll prepare a buffet so I can show off a huge variety of raw food. It’s great when guests can pick and choose to create their our “bowl food”. I come from a high end background training in Michelin starred restaurants so I love cheffing private dinner parties where I can show just how dazzling and delicious raw food can be.

What’s your most popular dish?

My raw lasagne. It’s got so many different elements and flavour combinations that just really work. I replace the lasagne with strips of courgette then layer up a pecan and smoked paprika ‘mince’, fresh pesto, fresh tomato sauce and a cashew nut cheese. The recipe is on my website.

I use the lasagne in food demos and teaching because every layer is delicious enough to stand alone and can be reimagined as part of another meal entirely, so it’s versatile and helps people understand the endless possibilities of raw food.

When did you go vegan?

I trained at a Michelin starred hotel in Bourton-on-the-water called Lords of the Manor. I was a very unhealthy pastry chef for years, travelling around Australia fattening people up with my pastries. When I came home I got back in touch with my best friend from school. He’d just come out of the marines and was training as a nutritionist. He was a passionate vegan and encouraged me to join him, but his food tasted rubbish. So I used my experience as a chef to come up with some new recipes. We both got really into it and as my own diet and fitness transformed, a new door opened. It’s funny to think I used to be a pastry chef now that I’m a super healthy chef but we all start somewhere.

 
 Something very beautiful to do with cauliflower.

Something very beautiful to do with cauliflower.

 

You’re based in Cheltenham when you’re not roaming. Is there a strong vegan scene there?

When I first started four years ago, there was a small vegan community on Facebook and that was about it. But it has really exploded and there are now three cafes that have a vegan based menu.

How do you decide what to put on your menu?

Without great flavour, plant based food confirms the stereotypical idea that vegans just eat boring bowls of salad. I don’t promote my food as vegan as I don’t want to put anyone off before they’ve tried something I’ve made. I make incredible food that just happens to be totally vegan. So I focus on the health benefits and the taste, then once they love it I tell them it’s also vegan to give them even more of a surprise.

I don’t like waste, so if I’ve made a carrot juice, I’ll use the pulp to make a raw carrot cake. Nothing beats watching the look on someone’s face as they take in the flavours of something that’s totally out of their comfort zone yet tastes better than they ever expected. That’s when I know I’ve got another convert!

To book onto one of Jay’s retreats, visit www.jayhalford.com/events/

And now, Jay shares a recipe...

 
 Jay's exquisitie smoked pecan tacos.

Jay's exquisitie smoked pecan tacos.

 

Smoked Pecan Tacos in Romaine Leaves

Makes six tacos - Ingredients:

Romaine Leaf Taco Shell

One head of a romaine lettuce

Smoked Pecan Filling:

150g pecan nuts / 50g sun dried tomatoes / 50g pitted, mixed olives / 1/2tsp seasalt / 2tsps smoked paprika / 1tsp garlic powder or one clove fresh crushed garlic / 1cm grated fresh ginger

Tomato Salsa

1 tomato / 1 red pepper / 1cm fresh grated ginger / Half a red onion / Handful of fresh basil / 50ml apple cider vinegar / 50ml tamari or liquid aminos / 50ml cold pressed rape or olive oil

Creamy Cashew Nut Cheese

100g soaked cashew nuts / 30ml apple cider vinegar / 60g nutritional yeast / 1/2tsp seasalt / 8 tbsp water / Juice of half a lemon

Diced Avocado

¼ diced avocado per taco

Dusting

Dust the finished taco with nutritional yeast and mixed seeds for presentation.

Method: Smoked pecan nut filling:

  1. Peel the leaves from the romaine lettuce, snapping at the head.

  2. Rinse under cold water and lay out on the work surface.

  3. Push firmly on the stem to crack it, so the leaf lays flat.

  4. In a food processor or blender, blitz pecans until ground but slightly chunky.

  5. Add sun-dried tomatoes, olives, salt, paprika, garlic and grated ginger.

  6. Blend until it forms a paste. It’s good to have it a little chunky to give the tacos more texture and bite.

  7. Add a splash of water if needed, to help it blend.

Tomato and Red Pepper Salsa:

  1. Finely chop ginger, red onion and basil and add to a mixing bowl.

  2. Dice tomato and red pepper and add to the bowl with the rest of your ingredients.

  3. Add apple cider vinegar, tamari and oil and mix well.

  4. Marinade for 3-4 hours

Creamy Cashew Nut Cheese:

  1. Soak cashew nuts in water for 2-4 hours (drain and rinse before use). This makes them easier to digest and easier to blend.

  2. Add cashew nuts, apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast, salt, lemon juice and water to blender. Blend on full speed until smooth. This should take approx 45 seconds.

To Finish and Serve:

  1. Assemble by laying lettuce leaf flat and filling it with a central line of pecan nut filling, then spoon a tablespoon of salsa over your pecan nut filling.

  2. Add diced avocado and cashew cheese.

  3. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and mixed seed and enjoy!

For more from Jay, click here.