“SO OFTEN, BEING HEALTHY IS FUN BECAUSE IT’S ABOUT TRYING NEW THINGS,” SAYS ELLA MILLS, COOKBOOK AUTHOR AND FOUNDER OF THE VASTLY POPULAR SITE, DELICIOUSLY ELLA. “But also, eating and cooking healthy can be hearty! When people get into eating healthy, they are often like, “I’m never doing this, I’m never doing that,” suddenly it becomes overwhelming. Whereas if you say, ‘I’m going to eat more of this, I’m going to eat more of that,’ it helps to inspire you a little bit more because it feels more positive, exciting and celebratory.” Indeed, thanks to her mouth-watering recipes like almond pesto Brussels sprouts and spicy coconut lentil dahl, Mills has become the poster girl for healthy eating and cooking in the U.K. and she’s even made her mark across the pond. (During this shoot no less than two fangirls stopped her to gush about her meaningful work.) Since launching her site in 2011 after being diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome that inspired her to change her diet and lifestyle in order to heal herself, Mills now runs her ever-expanding Deliciously Ella empire that spans a media company, which includes her original site, cookbooks and social media (which counts over 1 million followers), her products of oat bars and more that are sold in 5,000 stores in the UK and her popular delis where you can order her popular recipes. Kicking off the release of her latest book Natural Feasts, we had the fortune of sitting down with Mills at the newly opened Broken Coconut during her book tour in N.Y.C. over acai bowls and almond butter toast to talk diet labels, the wellness craze and her favorite way to entertain during the holidays.
Photos by Erin Falter
Your story is so inspiring to people because you weren’t born into the “wellness world,” you must have been so inspiring to help people realize “It’s not too late for me”.
That’s definitely how I felt when I first started getting into this. I came across stories of people who had not grown up on kale and being way more about pizza and then they changed their diet. I thought to myself, “Hey, if they can do it, maybe I can do that as well.”
Is there one healthy non-negotiable for you that keeps you grounded?
Yoga is something I do a lot and I really love it. It does a lot for me just in terms of having a positive mindset, which is definitely important to me. In terms of the way I eat, I just try and get what’s available and the best thing I can.
Do you try to follow any particular guidelines day to day when it comes to your personal diet?
Everything I eat is plant-based and pretty much all vegan but for me, I try to focus on what I am eating rather than what I’m not eating. I try not to get too attached to one thing like, “This is the holy grail,” because sometimes when you are living life and are super busy, you may feel like, “Oh, I’m failing.” I travel quite a bit for work and the days can be super intense so I try not to follow strict rules.
You have such a huge business with many hats. What is your morning routine like and how do you set intentions for the day?
Well, it used to be a routine of checking my phone, checking my emails, replying to people on Instagram and over the last two months or so, that was really burning me out. Now when I’m in London and don’t have to be somewhere else to be, I do yoga every day from 6:30 A.M. to 7:30 A.M. and I really love it. I literally roll out of bed, walk down the road and it helps me wake up.
That’s amazing! How do you find the discipline?
Somedays I wake up and I’m like “No, I’m not going to do it,” but when I get back, I’m refreshed and that mindset is so important to the way you feel and how happy you are. Somedays I may be really active and other days I just lie there but I still have that time with myself and that connection is really powerful.
Once you get to work, what’s breakfast look like?
After yoga, I come back and try to get out the door within 20 minutes. My husband and business partner Matt, me and our dog walk to work every morning, which is about an hour and it’s mostly through a park. I don’t normally eat anything until I get to work mainly because I’m running late every morning and I’m like, “We have to go!” Once I get to work, normally I have a very simple breakfast of avocado toast, porridge, oatmeal with almond milk and banana or some coconut yogurt with granola – something very quick and easy.
What does an average work day of meals look like?
I don’t think any day is the same as another. That’s what I like about my job because we do quite a few different things. One day, I’m recipe testing and working at the deli, the next day I’m shooting recipes for the book and the next day I’m in any town around the country talking to a stockist or a manufacturer. It varies so much but I like that because it keeps it interesting. There’s always something new to be thinking about!
The new book is Natural Feasts. What is the secret to entertaining in a plant-based way for people who aren’t necessarily plant-based and having them not even know the difference?
I’m a big believer in trying to lose the labels. If someone had said to me, previous to me changing my diet, “Do you want to come over for a vegan, gluten free, refined-sugar-free meal?” I’d be like, “No, I’m fine. I’m really busy tonight, I’m having pizza.” I realized that if you then started to explain it as the food and make it sound really delicious, people did want to come and did want to eat it. If you say, “I’ve sautéed garlic and celery and added mustard seeds and cumin and paprika and turmeric and coconut milk and cauliflower and potatoes and wilted spinach – do you want to come to dinner tonight?” Then they’re like, “Yeah, I’ll eat that! That sounds good!” That’s been the thing that I’ve found with my friends and family – I never say, “That’s healthy because of this!” Or “You should have this!” I talk about the flavors and spices, which helps make things sound familiar.
What do you think about the wellness craze and all the supplements and extras?
It’s really fun and great that people are becoming more aware. But, at the same time, I think sometimes certain things can be off-putting for people. Adaptogenic mushrooms and things like E3 Live all have a time and a place but people are like, “I can’t be healthy because I don’t have the time to or can’t understand, pronounce, afford adaptogenic mushrooms and what the hell do they do? I don’t want a mushroom smoothie, I want a banana smoothie!” When I’m cooking for friends, it’s about doing something that’s really familiar with accessible ingredients. I say, “Okay, this is cauliflower and lentils and turmeric and tahini,” And they’re like, “Great! I know I can do that and it looks, smells and feels familiar.” The thing that sometimes puts people off about healthy eating is they’re like, “I’m going to be hungry, you’re just going to give me raw vegetables.” It’s not that way at all!
What is one of your favorite entertaining meals for when you have friends over during the winter?
I’m a big one-pot person. I love anything where you can chuck everything in – herbs, spices and everything. There’s some Indian-inspired recipes in the book that I love, like a Chana Masala and an Aloo Gobi with coconut rice. I love them because they’re really easy but sound kind of fancy. They have tons of flavors and spice and are really delicious and hearty but they are one-pot.
What’s the biggest concern you find from novice cooks?
The other thing you hear about eating well is, “I don’t have time! I can’t do that!” I’m a big believer in the idea of cook once and eat three times. All you have to do to make double the amount is cook and chop more celery or cut a few more potatoes – it takes an extra four minutes and then you have an extra five meals that you can put in the freezer for another time.
What’s your favorite go-to meal?
When I’m cooking during the day, I get home and just want sautéed garlic, tomatoes and toast. It’s so delicious and that’s my go-to. It takes like 3 minutes!
You have amazing skin – are you interested in nontoxic beauty?
Yeah, I love all of that. I’m obsessed with trying products and doing things based on other people’s recommendations. I definitely feel a difference in my skin when I do.
What are some of your favorite natural beauty products?
For makeup, I love RMS nail polishes, their bronzer and luminizer. I think they are really brilliant. I love the brands, Ilia lipstick and W3ll People mascara, as well. I’m obsessed with all of it!
If there are three pantry essentials that people must have in their kitchens, what are they?
A good herb and spice rack is really important because it’s the easiest way to add flavor to anything. You can have such simple ingredients, but by sautéing turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin and paprika and putting in coconut milk, suddenly, it’s delicious! You can just chuck your cauliflower and spinach into that. But if you say, “I’ve got boiled cauliflower,” I’d be like “Uh-uh, I don’t want that.” Rhat makes a really big difference and it’s so easy to do. The second thing is to have dried goods. When you’re tired, you’ve worked late and can’t be bothered to do anything, having chickpeas, lentils, oats, buckwheat, quinoa and brown rice and then all of your condiments like Tamari, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil and olive oil, then suddenly, you’re like, “Okay, I can really make something with nothing.” Tahini and nut butters, too! They’re awesome because, again, you can do something really simple like roasting some vegetables and then you can make an amazing dressing using tahini, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and sesame oil, a bit of turmeric and cayenne pepper. And then, “Wow!” Something so simple that I could buy from any grocery store pretty inexpensively could be delicious.