Tiffani Thiessen on Her New Cookbook, Holiday Traditions and 'Alexa & Katie' Season 2
There is nothing more important to Tiffani Thiessen than family. It’s a constant in her acting career and is also the inspiration behind her debut cookbook, Pull Up a Chair.
Those who miss the devoted mother and wife hosting her former series Dinner at Tiffani’s on Cooking Channel have found solace in the cookbook, which was published in October. Complete with 125 recipes, the project was a three-year journey to publication. The 44-year-old enjoyed putting it together as she drew from traditions at home over various points of her life.
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“In the beginning, it was me being that young girl who just saw all the women in the kitchen having fun,” she said. “I just wanted to be with them.
"Then I got older, it was more about entertaining and having friends over. Then it was about getting a husband and having great meals with my family now that I have kids of my own. The heart has been the same. The title of the book, Pull Up a Chair, was a hashtag that I started a while ago, because to me, it was about putting yourself at a table with the people that you love.
“Yes, you are enjoying a meal, but it was also about creating memories and spending time together.
"I grew up where we had dinner five days a week, at least, with my whole entire family. We talked about the day and what was going to happen tomorrow. There would be a ritual where we would talk about a good thing that happened in school, or my dad would talk about a good thing at work. Then we would talk about a thing that wasn’t great.
"It was a way of connecting at the end of the day. I just wanted to try to keep that going with my own family. I also wanted to converse and connect with friends I didn’t see on a daily basis. And doing it over a meal, too.”
The holidays have always been a special time for Thiessen. She recalls preparing Thanksgiving dinner ever since she began living on her own at age 19 or 20.
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“My mom always makes her famous cream cheese pie, which is in my book,” she said. “So, that has been very traditional for a long time.
"One thing I usually do and have been doing for the last five or eight years, is doing the turkey a new way. We’ll rotate. I will either smoke it, fry it or bake it or cook it differently. We wait all year long to have these dishes that have been in our family for a long time.
"Then, of course, we go crazy with the leftovers. I usually make many different things with them afterward. For Christmas, we usually do Mexican food. We do enchiladas or tamales or something like that because we are kind of over turkey by then.”
Thiessen puts a lot of the motherly traits she displays at home into her role of Lori on Netflix’s Alexa & Katie. She plays mom to Alexa (Paris Berelc), who is stricken with cancer and faces treatment. However, the two best friends are at the center of this heartwarming sitcom. Reading the pilot, Thiessen felt the show was unique, which drew her to it.
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“All of us can say we have been touched by cancer somehow,” she said. “We’ve had friends or relatives or ourselves. I think putting the spotlight on it a little bit and showing these are people that are no different than us going through something pretty big.
"But then, how we can get through it with the support of friendship and families. That can make a difference when you’re going through something big like that.
“The storyline in the beginning was very much showing this young girl going through two big moments in her life. Of course, cancer and getting that phone call knowing she will have to fight it.
"Also, entering high school. That’s a big deal in a kid’s life. Just parallel aspects a child becoming a teenager who does need to lean on her best friend in Katie and her family. Then doing it all with the sense of humor that I think all of us need and strive to have a little bit in our lives.”
The series comes decades after Thiessen’s career caught fire on Saved by the Bell and, later, on Beverly Hills, 90210. Since then, we’ve entered the age of social media and a much different world.
“I think it’s great [creator and executive producer Heather Wordham] is taking on something that most people would probably put in a drama,” Thiessen said.
“I love that she really stepped outside the box a little bit. I can’t tell you how often I get stopped by kids and grownups saying, ‘Oh my gosh. This is amazing.’ My daughter’s friend is going through this. It has really been an eye-opener.
“So, to be able to watch it together and be able to talk about it a little more openly and add a little bit of humor. It almost helps make people a little more relaxed about the word cancer, which I sometimes think is hard for people to talk about.
"This gets people seeing you can talk about it. A lot of people are going through it. Many different levels of it. Our creator was pretty amazing to jump into something nobody has really done in a comedy sense.”
The star admits she wouldn’t be able to do the part as honestly without having kids of her own. Thiessen also brings more real -life experiences to Alexa & Katie.
“I used to volunteer for a cancer camp for kids during the summer in Idaho for about five years,” she said. “I worked with a lot of kids battling cancer and getting to know the parents and siblings. I had a little bit of knowingness of what that’s like on both sides.
"It was a role I knew I could do. You think about that and knock on wood every day that my kids are healthy and happy too.
"That’s the other thing. I want my kids to be happy and just good kids. It has been really neat. On the other side, here I am doing a sitcom again. I’m watching these young girls kind of do what I did over 30 years ago. It has kind of been a flip for me to be on the other side of things.”
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The inaugural season of Alexa & Katie struck a cord with audiences, leading to the show being renewed. For Thiessen, fans can expect the same feel for Season 2.
“Alexa is just in a different place, technically finished with chemo now,” she said. “[Now] it’s all those things that happen after treatment like the checkup and trying to get back into things she might have missed out on. All those things you go through in the next stage. That’s what you’re going to see.”
Alexa & Katie Season 2, Available to stream Wednesday, December 26, Netflix