Feb 11, 2016
Tiffani Thiessen grew up in front of the cameras, starting as a teenager playing cheerleader Kelly Kapowski.
Known to a generation of television fans for her work on “Saved by the Bell,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “White Collar,” Tiffani Thiessen is embracing her newest and most personal role: playing herself.
Inviting friends and former co-stars into her kitchen, she’s sharing recipes and entertaining tips on her own Cooking Channel program, “Dinner at Tiffani’s.”
Premiering this month, season two of her 16-episode series airs 7 p.m. Wednesdays on Cooking Channel. Guests at her table include Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Sasha Alexander, Daisy Fuentes, Vanessa Lachey, Neal Dodson, Hilarie Burton, Ethan Embry, Seth Green, and Scott Wolf.
Thiessen lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, Brady Smith, their daughter Harper, and 7-month-old son Holt. She shares recipes on her her blog.
Q.How did you learn to cook? Who has been the biggest influence on your cooking?
A. It would definitely be the women in my family. I’ve been cooking alongside my mother and my aunts and grandmother since I was little. I learned all my staples from family. Probably the most famous, which I did last season on the show, is my mom’s cream cheese pie. That’s the one that gets requested for every occasion.
Q.What are the biggest differences between filming this cooking program and other types of on-screen work you’ve done?
A. They’re totally different. One, I’m not playing my character. I’m actually being me, which I think is a little more nerve-wracking. No one’s writing your lines. If you’re not being entertaining, it’s you….
This (show) is very different. It is a total multitasking thing. It is planning, shopping, cooking, entertaining and hosting people coming to your house. It’s a lot, but it’s so fun.
Q.How did this show come about?
A. It came pretty simply. My friends would literally say let’s go have dinner at Tiffani’s. After hearing that and chuckling, I thought well, this could be a great show idea. I literally while filming “White Collar” walked in and pitched the show myself. It was neat.
Q.Do you film within your own kitchen?
A. No. Actually, some people might even notice this is a different kitchen from last season.
Q.What defines a Tiffani-style dinner party?
A. It is all about fun and connecting. I find that dinner parties, a lot of people are connected to the kitchen and helping, which you see on the show. When my friends come over, they’re cooking and stirring and helping to set the table.
I love that food evokes emotion and allows you to connect with people you like to spend time with. Sitting down and breaking bread with people allows you to put the phone down a bit and connect.
Q.Is that a dinner party rule: no phones?
A. Definitely. It doesn’t always apply, but I like when the phones are put aside. I know everyone likes to take a photo once in a while, but there’s no Snapchatting and video while at the table. We play games and talk. That’s what it’s all about.
Q.Guest lists for the dinners on this show pull in co-workers from your previous television shows. What’s your starting point for putting together a guest list?
A. In real life, it’s literally a lot of times just by running into somebody and saying hey, come on over for dinner next week.
The show is really more who is available and (who) we can get for the date (of filming). I do love thinking about who would have a lot of fun at the dinner table. There is a lot of thought put into it. It doesn’t always work, because people have lives and work and travel. Most of the time it does work out. It is a total reunion for me.
Q.How do you come up with menus?
A. I’m a theme-based girl. I come up with themes for what I want to do. That’s how I work in real life when I want to do dinner parties. I come up with a theme and build a menu around it.
Q.What’s an entertaining must, something that makes a night work for you?
A. One of the tips I have to make a dinner party easy and nice for me, I always have a timeline. Then I’m not stressed. If I’m stressed, my guests are not going to have a good time.
I always put a timeline together, from shopping list to when I start prepping and cooking and setting the table. That is my little trick to make me feel less stressed. I’m a planner, type A all the way.
Q.Where do you look for recipe inspiration? Are you a cookbook or online recipe person?
A. I do it all. I look for inspiration from many different things. I get a lot from restaurants, cookbooks and Pinterest. I find inspiration everywhere. A lot of times, it is literally the grocery store or farmers market.
Q.How has being a parent influenced or changed your approach to cooking?
A. I think for me, it has actually put my cooking even more in a place where I love providing for my family and showing them I love them. Being a mother and wife, I get to get in the kitchen and be creative.
I just started teaching my daughter to use a knife. It is fun, a bonding time. My son, Holt, just started baby food, so now we’re back to making baby food, too.
Q.You and your husband actually keep chickens on your property?
A. We have five chickens, and we get fresh eggs every day. We also grow a lot of different vegetables. We have apple trees and fig trees and avocados. We have almost an acre. We don’t feel like we’re in L.A.
Q.Current ingredient obsession?
A. Kaffir limes, I’m real into those right now. I use those a lot in my honey ginger wings. Smoked paprika, I’m really into that smoky spice now. Being married to a Texan … (who) likes meat, and I also have a smoker he likes a lot. Espresso powder is a great thing to add to baking recipes, and vanilla bean paste. Those are my favorites right now.
Q.Do you have a signature dish, something you’re known for?
A. I don’t. I get asked that a lot. I think my most requested from friends and daughter is my flatbread pizza. My ribs are my most requested from my husband. My daughter loves my risotto.
Q.What’s your favorite hostess gift?
A. I love when people bring homemade things. Anybody who brings homemade things, like caramel sauce or anything homemade, I love it. Right after I had Holt, I have a lot of friends who know how much I love home-cooked food. That was the best.
Q.What do you want people to know about cooking?
A. I just love to entertain, and connecting. That’s what food does for me. This is just a different form of me being creative. For me it is probably the most natural way of being creative.
Cooking, I truly think it is one of this things that anyone can do if they have the time and interest. I’m not a professionally trained chef, I just love to cook.