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'The Downton cast sometimes request my bacon sandwiches': HELLO! Online speaks to Downton Abbey's food stylist

10 NOVEMBER 2013
As the season finale of Downton Abbey's fourth season airs on Sunday night, HELLO! Online speaks to Lisa Heathcote, the show's food stylist, about keeping the meals looking picture-perfect and how the cast love her bacon sandwiches.

How much of the food that you use on Downton is real? How much do you cook yourself?

It is technically edible, but I've made it quite firm and used products that you wouldn't want to eat! But I do it all. I do all the cooking and all the food preparation. If they're upstairs in the dining room, then we're downstairs with Mrs Patmore preparing it all.


 



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What are your tips and tricks for keeping the food looking fresh during filming?

A lot of gelatine! The food is very, very solid; you wouldn't want to eat it really. I tend to think about the way the food will look on the platter if it's going upstairs and the way it's decorated. 

We did have a situation when a piece of venison was too small for its pan so we had to prop it up on a few carrots to give it a bit of height, but other than that it's all real. I decorate the plate and that's what you see.
 
Do the cast like your food?
 
Yes, they do eat it and certainly breakfast is very tucked in to.

I have to make sure my sausages are tasty and the bacon's good quality. I use good quality prodcuts as they would have had lovely bacon with rind on back then, so I have to have bacon from a decent butchers. They do comment on how nice it is.

 Most of the preparation is done at my home and then it has to be transported to the set so no one's able to pinch any of it. Although the smell of sausages and bacon - that's what gets a bit pinched.

There are hungry people there to eat it although sometimes it can go to waste if it's been sitting there it can't be eaten, it's not safe to eat. Sometimes the dogs get nibbles though!



 



Has anyone ever requested anything from you?
 
No it's very choreographed with the art department and the script, although occasional'y in the cold some people will say, 'Please can you make me a bacon sandwich.' There are those odd moments, of, 'Oh, can I have a sausage.'

Are you given the freedom to pick what you cook for the show?

Sometimes it's scripted and very specific, such as the salmon mousse that was referred to in episode one. So you see Daisy talking about it and mixing it downstairs and then I've got to create the salmon mousse that you see upstairs.

I work very closely with the art department, with Gina Cromwell and Charmian Adams who are the set decorator and art director, and we sit down and dicuss very fully what we might be seeing on the table and what the menu is and where we might be in the meal.

They give me some freedom and it is often discussed down to the last cherry!

Have you seen the type of food change and adapt over the series?

During the second series, which was set during the First World War, there wasn't much food so I didn't actually work on that one, but then in the third series we had the wedding so there was a lot of food.
 
People have become more interested in the food as it's gone on and we very much focus on what's being eaten upstairs corresponding with what's downstairs.


 


 
Have you got a favourite memory of food on the show?
 
There have been so many! Last year we had a difficult time where something was scripted, a fish dish, and it had to be edible and it also had to fall on Maggie Smith's lap and so that was quite challenging.

We didn't want to upset those in the wardrobe department by getting fish on one of the costumes, all that was quite tricky to work out as was setting it up to knock it off so that it didn't look too contrived. 

This has been the season of savouries, so devilled kidneys and such, they've been eating a lot of little pastries.

Do you have a 'go to' source to research the food?

I have some of my own knowedge and I use Mrs Marshall and Mrs Beeton and I also have menu cards from private houses. It's many years of research and knowledge that I use and I adapt the recipes so I am recreating the recipes that Mrs Marshall and Mrs Beeton have written, but using modern day techniques.


 



 Having worked on films such as The Duchess how does the scale and amount of food differ between film and TV?
 
There is a LOT of food in Downton and we get to see the food twice; we get to see it downstairs and we see it upstairs and normally in films we just see it once, one banquet and that's it.

There can be occasions in Downton when we see a picnic three times, we see the packing of the picnic and we see the eating and preparing of the pinic.

Often I have to recreate something that we've seen downstairs three weeks later when we see it upstairs again.
 
They're two separate sites. Downstairs is at Ealing and upstairs is at Highclere Castle and they're a good two hours apart and we don't ever film on the same day. So on a film it's easier as it's all in one go, in comparison the food in Downton does a world tour.
 
What's the best bit about working on Downton?
 
I think it's fun, the creativity and the collaborative effort, it's all a lot fun.

Downton Abbey Series 4 is out on DVD on 11 November

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