There exists, in the minds of most people, an insurmountable gulf between eating for health and eating for pleasure. Ignore your allergies, thickening waist and grumbling digestive system to consume the things you enjoy, and, one way or another, your body will pay for it later. Eliminate offending foods, and you feel incredibly virtuous, but bored. Increasingly, a growing number of us are of the opinion that there is no middle ground, which is precisely the mindset that chef Raymond Blanc is trying to shift with the launch of a unique cookery course.
Together with Amanda Ursell, a leading nutritionist, Blanc has developed a one-day residential nutritional course - essentially, an introduction to buying, preparing and consuming wholesome food - at his Oxfordshire restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. Courses cater for up to 12 people.
An eclectic bunch, our group includes a television executive, two leading hairdressers and the model Laura Bailey. Aside from one enthusiastic amateur chef, our collective culinary experience is limited, but becoming a master chef is not what this course is about.
A 9am kick-off means that, working in pairs, we get to prepare our own breakfast. While Blanc demonstrates and lends a hand where necessary, Ursell fuels us with facts about why specific ingredients are being used. Bailey and I have the task of whizzing up a surprisingly tasty almond milk and pear smoothie (low in fat, high in energy-boosting fructose). This is followed by poached organic egg on a fondue of tomato, prepared in minutes. Tomatoes, Ursell tells us, not only supply immune-boosting vitamin C, but are among the richest sources of lycopene, an important antioxidant pigment that protects against heart disease. According to Ursell, your fridge can replace your beauty and medicine cabinets once you start to shop for the right things.
Throughout the day, we make everything from a vegetable stir-fry, loaded with anti-ageing and immune-boosting nutrients, to a chocolate mousse - made with 70% cocoa chocolate and egg whites, it is low in fat and high in iron, a mineral seriously lacking in most of our diets. Peppers, a rich source of vitamin C, which we stuff with couscous and bake, can reduce the severity and duration of a cold. The capsaicin in chilli peppers can help clear the nasal passages; crab meat (used in a terrine) provides copper, which keeps the pigment in skin and hair.
If we take anything home with us, Blanc says, it should be to buy only fruit and vegetables that are in season and, if not organic, only those produced within EU countries. "The EU has done more good than harm when it comes to controlling pesticide use on crops," he says, holding up a plum from South Africa, which he then bounces like a rubber ball. "Try to eat food when it is still fresh and has the greatest percentage of nutrients, and don't overcook. They are simple rules, but they can make a huge difference to flavour and goodness, and ultimately to the way you feel."
· A one-day nutritional course for two (including bed, breakfast and evening meal at Le Manoir) costs £1,080. Call 01844 278881 for details www.manoir.com).