June 9th: An Evening with Deliciously Ella – Oxford Union

Peter and I had a great evening at the Deliciously Ella Oxford Union Q&A session last week. I came away with a few gems & take-away tips in relation to healthy eating, lifestyle and student life, and thought I’d share these with you here! 

I couldn’t believe my luck in early May when I spotted that Ella had put new events on her blog – events which I knew full well would become fully booked pretty soon, so I immediately signed up to the Q&A evening at the Oxford Union.

Well, I say immediately, I would have but Ella had been so quick on the updates that even Blackwell’s didn’t know about the event when I called up….instead they signed me up for a different talk, one about the Isle of Wight!! Luckily, we eventually worked it out and were later reserved on Ella’s list… phew!!

So, for the past month, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the evening – what would I say to Ella? How would I introduce myself? What would I ask her? (forgetting a further 50 or so other people would also be there!)

I’ve never been to the Oxford Union before, but it’s amazing how intimidating a room full of young, mostly female Oxford Students are! We take our seats and after not too long a wait, Ella walks calmly through the room to the stage. I must say at this point, that before I read an article earlier this week which gave away Ella’s age, I had assumed because of her cooking experience and knowledge that she was either my age or a little bit older. I was completely taken aback when I read that she’s actually only 23! Only 23 and already has a best selling book, top blog and is an Instagram sensation! Amazing.

I’d been expecting that a lot of what Ella would be saying would be from her book, but I was pleasantly surprised as the Q&A session developed that it was actually more like a normal conversation, one which would lead anywhere and everywhere. By the way, Ella seemed so relaxed, chilled and just a lovely person!

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10 Top Take-Aways I Got:

1) Ella loves blogging and never expected ‘Deliciously Ella’ to be read by anyone else but her.

When she was ill and on serious amounts of medication, Ella would Google natural healing methods and read about people who had managed to reduce or completely relieve themselves of their symptoms. From this knowledge, she started to change her diet gradually and would blog about her recipes and food. Ella admits that the blog really started off just for her.. and was surprised when people started reading and sharing it with their friends.

Ella is most proud of the fact that her blog and story have helped to create a community of like-minded people sharing their experiences, recipes and love for Deliciously Ella.

2) Ella on culinary blogging.

One of the first questions of the evening led Ella to talk about why blogging is turning into such a big hit in terms of cooking. She muses that foodie bloggers feel a sense of freedom; a freedom that their recipe doesn’t have to be perfect because they’re not a trained chef and their readers appreciate this fact. Instead, they are just normal people sharing a passion for food. A topic which is so easy to share, because it’s common to everyone.

3) Any culinary disasters?

When asked whether she has ever had any culinary disasters, Ella laughs and shly admits that, no, she hasn’t. Why? Because she makes sure that every time she adds a new spice or herb or any ingredient into something that she’s making, she taste tests the difference the addition has made.

I’ve got to say that I rarely taste the stages of my food. In fact, I frequently complain to Peter that the chilli con carne I thought I was making actually just tastes like a standard bolognese! – a lesson for all of us!

4) On exercise.

Ella makes time for some form of exercise everyday of the week and says that if a meeting ever clashed with her class, she knows which one she would choose! She talked about the importance that exercise has in her and everyone’s lifestyle, and that it goes a long way to balancing the body, mind and soul. When asked how she has time to exercise everyday of the week, taking into account how busy she is, she puts it down to keeping a schedule and making time.

Ella comments that there is always enough time in the day to exercise. If something is important to you and you want to do it, you make time and have to be brave enough to say no.

5) Water, water, water.

Obviously because the talk was held at the Oxford Union, there was of course the obligatory student! And so a couple of the questions were geared to student life, eating, hangovers and what to drink in the pub! Ella avoids most drinks when at the pub and will either order a vodka and soda, or just some tasty water. Ella laughs at herself when she gives this answer as she’s desperately trying to find something more awesome than water to drink, but really… we all should take a leaf out of her book and drink more of the stuff. Plus… we’d feel a whole lot better the morning after pub time!

6) Environmental friendliness of her food.

This was quite an interesting point raised by a member of the audience who is vegan and is conscious of where her food originates from. She quite sharply said that although she loves Ella’s book, she was put off by the fact it uses a lot of exotic produce (i.e. bananas, avocado, mango, pineapple, dates etc.) and wonders about the environmental effect this has on the planet.

Ella defended her recipes by caveating that she tries: to not use multiple exotic ingredients in one recipe, to buy local produce and to eat seasonally. She then mused that perhaps importing exotic produce is less harmful than the meat industry. I’m not certain on this point, as you also have to consider the working conditions of people harvesting the exotic produce and the price that growing such items has on other habitat – are other habitats being sacrificed to maximise produce yield?? I’m just putting it out there and I’m definitely not saying that it is as harmful as the meat industry (FYI, this -> is an interesting read), but I don’t think a vegan based diet which includes eating exotic produce is 100% guilt free. But, as Ella said, no one can be perfect, it’s about finding the right balance.

7) Mum’s the word. Portion sizes.

When I first started cooking Ella’s recipes (particularly lentil & pasta dishes), Peter and I were quite amazed at how much a 4 person meal would make. It was good because we’d have plenty for dinner, next day lunch and then a couple of boxes to pop in the freezer. We wondered whether it was because Ella was compensating for the fact that she wasn’t eating the usual snacking rubbish (crisps, chocolate, sugar etc) that others have in their diet. It turns out however, that Ella just has big portion sizes! Something that she apologised about and mentioned that her Mum badgered her to amend for subsequent recipes.

8) Natural sugars vs. refined.

It was raised that Ella has quite a sweet tooth and includes a lot of dates, date syrup, maple syrup and fruits within her recipes – be it, breakfast, smoothies or pudding. When asked whether this potentially could be a problem like refined sugars, she said that if it meant that people would switch to her sweet recipes in place of a mars bar, than they’re winning!! You can’t be perfect, but you can cut out the refined stuff. Again, she caveated it with balancing and in eating in moderation. She admits she finds it hard to not eat a whole tray of her sweet potato brownies, but in the end, she feels that’s better than eating crisps and chocolate bars. I agree…and I reckon it would be a heck of a lot better tasting!

9) Rules? What rules?

The reason why I love Ella’s book and recipes is that they are easy to follow, fuss free and use easy to find ingredients. Unlike other popular health foodies, Ella doesn’t have strict rules for her followers. Instead, she hopes that they find a balance which works for them. She eats a largely plant based, vegan diet… however, she will use good quality honey and bee pollen because in her eyes, those items aren’t against her values. She also says that she’s not repulsed by seeing someone eat a big juicy burger, which is nice because all too often people on such diets (a restricted diet, not necessarily one for weight loss ) like to make their feelings heard about other’s eating habits.

10) On cooking as a student.

Ella was a student herself, graduating from St Andrews in 2013 with a Masters in Art History. Her advice to the avid students within the room was to eat a balanced meal, try to eat seasonally and if possible, locally. In addition, she referenced her much loved energy bites to make as a snack instead of buying more expensive Naked-style bars everyday. For students with no access to a kitchen, she advised on buying a budget food processor / blender to keep in their room to whizz up healthy smoothies, snacks and hummus. I think that’s quite a good tip, although you might also want a mini-fridge too?? Since graduating and healing herself with eating naturally, Ella is now studying nutrition and is once again a student.

My question to Ella

The time came when the evening was wrapped up, and it was off to do book signing. You may notice that I didn’t reference a question from myself…. well, that’s because I was a complete scaredy cat and couldn’t muster the strength to publicly ask a question. I’m 26 for goodness sake, 26 and scared of a room full of young Oxford students!!

When Peter and I left the Union, I was royally disappointed in myself for not asking a question and so we decided to head to the Kings Arms pub  (which is so nice!) for a quick beverage before heading home. It was there that I formed my question to Ella and decided to send her an email the following morning.

“I know that you add references at the back of your book to people and methods which have helped to develop your understanding of nutrition and self-healing, but I wondered where or who you take inspiration from in terms of developing new recipes? Especially when the mainstream recipe books (i.e. Jamie, Nigella, Delia etc.) include food which you can’t consume.”

Ella very kindly responded and said that she takes inspiration from the flavours she mixes together, the weather and her mood at the time, and Instagram.

I found this answer quite interesting as so many people name chefs and personalities that they love, but because of the items which Ella can and can’t eat, her recipes are quite unique. I think a lesson for me which came out of her response and the Q&A evening, is to taste your food and don’t restrict yourself too much!

Thanks Ella for a great evening!


P.s. strangely no one asked about Ella’s new books, I personally can’t wait for her 2nd which is out in January 2016.