Plant-based chef Mary Mattern played private chef to Ellie Goulding during her 2014 US tour, shares details from the experience and then some.

Mary Mattern, perhaps better known to her avid fans as Nom Yourself, is sweet as can be and refreshingly humble. The 28-year-old plant-based chef, who arrived at veganism by accident, has for the past two years been honing her self-taught kitchen skills and amassing some major champions of her food — not the least of which being Ellie Goulding, with whom Mattern toured the US for a month-and-a-half this past spring.

Actor Jeremy Piven has also taken an interest, inviting Mattern to his Malibu home to discuss the virtues of animal-free eating. With any luck it won’t be long before the “Entourage” veteran is eschewing meat, dairy and eggs, too. Here’s hoping!

Another boon for the blonde bombshell was when last week Mattern acted as sous chef — alongside Jay Astafa — to Ellen’s former private chef Roberto Martin. Meat-free food company Gardein hosted an intimate dinner for journalists in New York to experience the versatility of their ubiquitous products and, if memory serves, omni guests were smitten with the three-course meal and passed appetizers.

Originally from Suffern, a quaint town outside New York City, Mattern presently splits her time a number of ways, between several cities. Whether catching up with her very favorite folks (her family) or staying with the BF in Midtown Manhattan, traversing the country cooking for a vocal icon or hopping a plane to LA, this girl gets around. Her favorite place, however, would probably have to be Baltimore, where she previously ran a record label and first discovered her knack for and love of whipping up yummy meatless meals.

Despite having no formal training, the tattooed talent has also already released a cookbook, albeit self-published. The paperback contains a number of familiar dishes — think cauliflower buffalo bites with ranch dip, mac ‘n’ cheese, etc. — recipes that will satisfy even the pickiest (non-vegan) palates.

Given Mattern’s rigorous and often unpredictable schedule, we were grateful to secure an hour with her recently on our rooftop, where we proceeded to pick her brain about being vegan, private cheffing for a pop star and myriad other things she’s got going on. We’re just stoked we caught her before she hits the road again, as she’s preparing to tour with yet another artist, departing mid-August for a month or so, though we’re not sure who with. It’s top secret…

So, how did you first get into private cheffing?
I didn’t want to do this. All I wanted to do was write cookbooks and [have private cheffing] be a side thing. That’s how it started. Then, when I was in LA, I was hanging out with friends at Crossroads. Jeremy Piven and Ron Jeremy walk in, not together but separately. The next morning I tweeted, “That’s so funny. It was a Ron Jeremy Piven night at Crossroads.” Jeremy Piven sent me a message: “Hey, could you come talk about a plant-based diet? I have a few questions.” So, my manager and I drove to his house in Malibu and he asked if I was a personal chef. [I told him,] “I could totally do that.” So, he’s the reason I got into it in the first place. Ellie and I had talked about it. We were friends before I started working for her. She was like, “Come out and cook for me.” It’s so awesome how it snowballed into a job that I never even imagined doing.

So surreal. Jeremy isn’t vegan, though, right?
He isn’t, but he does eat a plant-based diet sometimes. A lot of people say they can’t eat plant-based because it’s inconvenient. People [like Piven] have such hectic schedules and they’re doing it. It’s really not that hard.

Have you cooked for Jeremy since your conversation?
A couple of times in New York and LA. He’s such a healthy eater, so it was a welcome challenge compared to the comfort food I’m accustom to making. He’s actually in London now filming Mr. Selfridge.

I watch that show!
What’s so cool is that he’s just so awesome. He’s such a great guy. He’s exactly how you’d think he would be, super charismatic. He’s not at all like he is on “Entourage.” He’s not like Ari Gold at all. He’s very chill.

I believe it. So, how did you first meet Ellie?
Through Twitter. Social media is the reason all of this happened. She added me on Twitter and I was freaking out. I was like, “Oh my gosh. Why?” I knew she was vegetarian, but at that point it still didn’t make sense. Twitter’s not my main source of social media.

Instagram?
Absolutely!

You have so many followers.
It’s insane. Social media is so strange. But, it’s a great networking tool. Ellie commented on one of my photos of a sweet potato roll. I was like, “We should grab food sometime.” It came from that. We started texting each other and became friends.

Love it. So, she’s not vegan either.
She is vegan. It’s official. You can say it now. She’s vegan and she’s loving it. She was vegan even before I started cooking for her. I guess that’s why she had me come on the road.

How did it go? Were you able to watch her perform or were you stuck at the stove?
Watched all 32 performances. I cooked before the shows and made her after-show green smoothies when the last song came on.

Every day she would be like, “I feel so good, I feel so great.” She’s [always been] really into working out, really toned. But now she eats clean, feels good, has more energy. Which is great. Cutting out dairy is great for her voice.

I didn’t know dairy impacted vocals.
Dairy creates mucus, which is not good if you’re singing. So, when she decided to become vegan, that was a big help for her. She was vegetarian for so long. She didn’t realize [the] impact [transitioning from vegetarian to vegan] would have on her.

When she invited you to tour, was it an instantaneous yes?
We had talked about it before. “Hey, I’ll totally come cook for you,” I’d said. And she’s like, “Let’s do this.” She’s such a down-to-earth person; calling her my boss is strange. How many people can say they’re doing their dream job and they’re having the most fun doing it? It was such a cool experience.

What were the logistics? Like, how did you do it, in practical terms? How’d you get the groceries?
I would take Uber cars from venues to Whole Foods usually. Or, if it was a Saturday or Sunday, I’d try to find a local farmers market. Super, super easy.

I imagine this partnership helped boost your Instagram numbers.
I gained at least 30,000 followers from that tour. A lot of them are meat eaters, and they’ll comment on my Instagram photos saying, “Hey, we became vegan because of you and Ellie!” It’s so cool to see people reach out based on my touring with her. People really respect Ellie, as they should. She’s an amazing human being, not just a really good singer. She wants to be the best person she [can] possibly be, and I think that’s the reason she became vegan. Spiritually, she just doesn’t want to put dead animals [and their secretions] in her body. She doesn’t want to be a part of any suffering. She’s on an awesome journey.

When and why did you become vegan?
I became vegan by accident, almost two years ago. I wanted a hobby, so I started cooking. At that time I was eating meat and cheese. So, I taught myself how to cook and, while I was doing it, I just wasn’t eating meat or dairy. I found that adding those things to the meals was making them really heavy, and I didn’t want that. I wanted to feel good. It was two months into teaching myself how to cook that I was like, “Oh my gosh. I’m eating a completely plant-based diet. I can be vegan!” Everyone was not vegan before they were vegan. Once you become vegan — for whatever reason — once you educate yourself about what’s going on, you expand your reasoning. We need the younger generation to learn about this.

So, I presume your plant-based diet extends to an all-around vegan lifestyle?
Absolutely. 100%. All of my beauty products, my shampoo, my conditioner. It was a couple months into me being vegan where I realized how many [products contain] animal [-derived ingredients]. There are so many ethical alternatives. You can find them everywhere.

Do you have any favorites?
I just use Physicians Formula. It’s super simple and you can pretty much get it anywhere. Clothing-wise, one thing that I do love is boots. Nicora Johns is amazing. I love everything about them. Boots are my one love when it comes to fashion. I definitely back [founder Stephanie Fryslie] and her company a lot.

Can we get some Nicora Johns on Ellie?
We need to! Stephanie actually just sent me a pair of the new boots, which are so amazing! I love them so much. Ellie’s a huge Doc Martens fan, but Nicora Johns are just perfect. They’re so comfortable. They’re just great.

How would you describe your cuisine?
It’s comfort food. The cookbook is based off of when I first became vegan. I was making a lot of comfort food. But, I’m growing as a person and as a cook, so I think, as that progresses, so will my recipe writing.

Do you make your own homemade cheeses or milks or anything?
I try to. But I also try to think of people who need an easy recipe. I think Daiya’s a really great base for you to make something for yourself really quickly, that isn’t cashew-based or something that takes a lot of time.

So, why did you call out actor Ty Burrell on Instagram and throw him props?
Ty Burrell owns a restaurant in Salt Lake City. It’s strictly sausages and beer. The first thing on the menu is a vegan sausage! It’s Field Roast. It was just really cool to see.

What chefs inspire you?
Chad Sarno is probably my favorite chef. Vegan or not, had I known about him before I was vegan I would have been so in awe. What he does with vegetables is insane. He makes dishes look amazing. They’re works of art. Tal Ronen I look up to. He’s just so cool. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was out to dinner at Crossroads and he seems like such a relaxed guy. Kind of what I aspire to be. One day I want to open a restaurant. I’m going to cook good food for people and it’s not going to be uptight. Some vegan restaurants can be a little intimidating, but Crossroads isn’t. And everything I had there was amazing.

Couldn’t agree more. So, why Nom Yourself?
You are what you eat. I think that is something that people can connect to.

Lastly, are there any specific animal organizations you support?
Mercy For Animals. Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. It’s so close! I think supporting your local organizations is helpful. I’m all about supporting your community and doing what you can to make your community grow. Social media makes people want to save the world, which is great; but I think if everyone in their community tried to save their community, this world would be a very different place.

Photo credit: Christopher M. Perino

About Nell Alk

Nell Alk is a writer, editor and activist. Originally from the Midwest but based in New York City since 2006, she loves the cosmopolitan lifestyle, plant-based cuisine and animal-free fashion. Beyond food and apparel, she’s an arts and entertainment enthusiast, as well as an all around avid vegan, with her finger perpetually on the pulse of this burgeoning scene. Apart from Ecorazzi, she’s written about culture, nightlife and other fun subjects for outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Soho House Magazine and Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Life blog. More on Nell and her journalistic and copywriting work here. You can also interact with her on Twitter and Instagram

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