Ella Mills celebrated a major milestone this year, marking 10 years since she posted the first recipe (spiced sweet potatoes with an avocado cream) on the blog she titled Deliciously Ella.
Now a multi-million-pound company with a staff of 50 run by the food writer and her husband and business partner, Matthew, the brand was born out of a “horrendous situation”, when Mills, now 31, was forced to drop out of university due to ill health.
“I had lots of digestive issues, I had chronic fatigue, chronic pain, I had a consistent UTI for four years,” she says on a Zoom call from Deliciously Ella HQ. “I was on antibiotics, I went into hospital for antibiotic drips, I was on steroids, I tried beta blockers…”
Eventually diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome and prescribed drugs that still weren’t working a year later, the then-21-year-old was running out of options. “I just hit an absolute rock bottom with my physical health, but also with my mental health,” she recalls.
Taking matters into her own hands, Mills – who is the daughter of former Labour MP Shaun Woodward – decided to overhaul her diet, cutting out meat and processed foods, which she found worked wonders for her health, and gradually she came off all medication.
Teaching herself to cook and sharing her experiments online, the culinary seeds were sown and the novice cook’s following began to grow – today Deliciously Ella has 2.1 million followers on Instagram.
Plant-based cookery may have hit the mainstream, but back then it was different. “Ten years ago, you felt like you’re a complete weirdo,” Mills says. “Going out for dinner, I’d be like, ‘Do you have anything that’s plant-based?’ They’d be like, ‘Oh, you can have a green salad’. That’s not dinner!.”
Six cookbooks, an app, a restaurant and a supermarket product range later, the mum of two daughters (Skye, three, and May, who’ll turn two in October) is as surprised as anyone about her phenomenal success.
“My mum’s the first person to say, ‘No one expected this of Ella’,” she says with a laugh.
“It’s said with love, but it’s true. I was really not someone who had big plans in life.”
So, what changed?
“I think I’ve realised the power of finding a purpose,” she reflects.
While the business has mushroomed, that purpose has remained the same. Mills insists: “I obviously started Deliciously Ella for my own needs, but I’ve always been really passionate about being useful for people. It’s all about trying to genuinely give goods and services that are helpful.”
That’s why the bestselling author’s latest title is something of a departure from the standard cookbook format. How To Go Plant-Based: A Definitive Guide For You And Your Family features advice from a range of doctors, nutrition experts, and a psychologist.
“I think what we’ve seen over the past few years is you’ve now got this huge swathe of the population who identify as flexitarian, or are trying to be more plant-based,” Mills explains.
Yet a lot of people are confused when it comes to swapping meat for veg-focused meals, she believes: “There are so many myths out there and so many concerns, you know, do you need to take supplements? How do you get protein? How do you get calcium? Is it safe for me to do when I’m pregnant? Can my children do it?”
Along with answers to those questions, the seventh Deliciously Ella book is packed with easy, one-pan dinners like 10-minute pea and pesto orzo. Time, the working mum knows, is of the essence, as is proving that embracing a plant-focused diet doesn’t necessarily have to be at odds with the cost-of-living crisis.
“Lots of recipes you can make at home, like lentil-based bolognese, they can be pretty inexpensive and arguably a lot cheaper than lots of meat-based meals,” says Mills.
And, while a fully plant-based diet works for Mills, she stresses that munching a burger or bowl of mac and cheese doesn’t mean you’ve fallen off the wagon.
“There is no wagon!” she says.
“It’s about trying to look after yourself for decades, not days,” says Mills. “You’re not being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you’re just trying to genuinely nourish your body.”
How To Go Plant-Based: A Definitive Guide For You And Your Family by Ella Mills, Yellow Kite, £26, out now. Photography by Clare Winfield
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