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

A: Usually there's a scene going on that is not about the cooking. Cooking is happening on the side of it. Every time we're in the kitchen, in order to get the right activity happening and the energy level and the speed of it, we always say, "What part of the day are we in? Have we made lunch?" That dictates who's doing what and at what speed. As far as the speed goes, Alastair said at the very beginning, "This is a really, really busy part of the house. Sometimes not as busy, but usually when there is action, you are going at it like a rocket." … He says this house was providing food for the family, maybe guests and the servants. They were eating three times a day on top of which there would be other things as well. It was like an engine that had to go. There was a real urgency to do it efficiently and fast. So you will never see a kitchen scene slow. It just doesn't feel right. It's kind of organized chaos.

What's also helpful, they have a couple of working rings on the stove. So that if things are being cooked you will see steam always. … And if a cup of tea is poured, it will be coming out boiling because they do care about that detail.

Q: On set, your meals are served aboard a double-decker bus, but are there any good cooks on the set?

A: The wardrobe department, there's a girl who bakes beautiful cupcakes and things. Sophie (McShera) can bake, the little girl who plays Daisy. She doesn't much, but she can bake. I know she can. She does bring stuff in.

Q: There are lots of great TV cooks in England, do you have a favorite?

A: Delia Smith — everybody swears by her, don't they? When I have a dinner somewhere and people go: "Delia." And then everyone goes, "Oh, Delia, you can't go wrong with Delia." If I was a cook and did a lot of cooking, I would head for Delia probably.

Q: I know you don't cook, but I bet you boil an egg occasionally?

A: Oh, yes, yes. It's not my joy to do it, but of course I can up to a point. But I do have disasters and then that throws me. … I have a few things I can do like mince and potatoes — that's ground beef. Roast chicken. Shepherd's pie. I can do eggs and bacon. And I tried to find something healthy and I found a recipe for prawn risotto. And you had to put the rice and spices and get that all going and that would have been lovely except that I put brown rice because I thought it would be healthier rather than white and. … we never did cook it because it became known as prawn grit because it was absolutely inedible.

Q: But your husband cooks, right?

A: He does a very good curry. … The first meal he ever made me was chicken curry. It was the most delicious thing I'd ever tasted in my life.

Q: What about all the spoofs, the "Downton Arby," the BBC's. Do cast members get offended?

A: I don't think anyone's ever been offended. It's the highest form of flattery for a start and mostly they're very funny.

Q: And Maggie Smith off camera?

A: I love 'er. I haven't worked with her at all, haven't done any scenes with her, but I get to sit with her when there are big group scenes when everybody's there. … She's a very witty lady. She's a funny lady.

Q: There was life before "Downton" of course. Any role you've particularly enjoyed?

A: I played Rosie in "Mamma Mia" in the West End. I stayed for two years because it was such a fun job. I mean, three women in their middle years running around in Lycra with great roles and at the end, singing "Waterloo" to an audience all on their feet because they all want to dance was a bit like playing a rock concert, which obviously I'd never done.

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