Action in 'Downton' kitchen is just like old days

By Judy Hevrdejs

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Published: Sunday, Feb. 17 2013 11:30 p.m. MST

Lesley Nicol, left, plays Mrs. Patmore, and Sophie McShera plays Daisy on "Downton."

Joss Barratt

Enlarge photo»

Actress Lesley Nicol was in Chicago for a few days, minus the white apron she wears as Mrs. Patmore in the kitchen of PBS' "Downton Abbey," which wrapped up its season last night.

She was in Chicago to bring the story of legendary English pianist Myra Hess to the Chicago Cultural Cente.

The U.S. premiere of the theatrical production "Admission: One Shilling" with pianist Inna Faliks is being held in the hall where the free lunchtime Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts are presented by Chicago's International Music Foundation.

Written by Hess' great-nephew and composer Nigel Hess, "Admission" celebrates Myra's determination to lift the spirits of Londoners during World War II with noontime performances of classical music.

The Chicago performance is a break from a three-month stint living with her husband on the West Coast, where Nicol was surprised at the number of people who recognized her (even at Costco). While there she added her voice to those of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson for an animated film ("Turkeys") and headed to Vancouver to film a bit for ABC's "Once Upon a Time."

And while Nicol doesn't consider herself a cook (Hello? Does "The Good Wife" Julianna Margulies practice law in her spare time?), she does appreciate the Downton pros around her who keep the whisk and kettle action true. How else would the culinary disaster of a broken hollandaise be saved by a yolk in Season 3?

We caught up with Nicol before she headed back to her West London home and the February filming of "Downton Abbey's" Season 4. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: So Alastair Bruce, the historical adviser to the show, does he find stuff wrong in the kitchen?

A: He's very strict. It's as simple as this: In (this) season, we've got more people in the kitchen because there are more kids around now that the war's over, and there was a thing where the director said, "So, I think Mrs. Patmore comes in with Daisy, and she's got a tray." and Alastair goes, "No!" And we go, "No? No tray?" And he says no, because now we have plenty of staff back, and Mrs. Patmore does not carry the tray. And you won't find her doing the menial tasks in the kitchen because she doesn't have to. Her job is Gordon Ramsay. She's seasoning, she's checking, she's making sure everything is up to speed like a proper chef. . He's always looking for detail like that.

Q: Alastair covers people's behavior, who does what, that sort of thing. What about the food?

A: We also have some very good props guys who are the ones who prepare the dishes, give you the equipment if you're whisking something or whatever. Luckily one of the prop guys is a chef. And I try to avoid doing anything technical so nobody will be able to say, "Well that doesn't look right." But we were doing something with a sauce, and I just said to him: "What stage are we? What have we done? And where are we at, and what do we have to achieve?" and he would just be able to tell you that.

We also have a home economist who creates those big dishes when there's a dinner party and amazing elaborate dishes. She brings those in. So if we need to, we can ask her technical questions.

Q: What are some of the challenges you've had in that kitchen?

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