Are you sure that fish dish you saw the Dowager tucking into was in fact fish? Appearances can be deceiving
Ever fancied taking up residence at Downton Abbey, with those fancy seven course dinners and genius but oh-so-brutal one-liners from Dame Maggie Smith?
This will make you think twice.
The brilliant food stylist Lisa Heathcote is the woman responsible for creating all the silver service nosh served on the ITV show. In an interview with Roslyn Sulcas at the New York Times, she revealed the secrets behind those period plates.
Here’s what we learnt.
If the Dowager can’t eat it, it doesn’t make the plate
The food can't be too fancy, ornate or difficult to eat - even though there was butler service, diners would serve themselves from the platters. Heathcote said, “The rule is that if Lady Violet can’t put a fork and spoon on the item on the plate and serve herself, it can’t be in the dining room.”
Lady Violet is, after all, not familiar with the sensation of being wrong.
One chicken in shot = 60 chickens on set
Heathcote said, “It's got to be able to stand around while the scene is shot over and over again, and you have to be able to make vast quantities of it, because if someone carves a chicken leg off the whole chicken, they are going to do that over and over again and you will have to have 60 chickens ready.”
After all, a chicken leg can only be removed once and there will be many takes of the same chicken-carving scene. Still, that's a lot of chickens.
The meat has to be auditioned too, obvs
It’s hard to imagine, but that fancy butcher at the bottom of your road wasn’t around in Downton time, which means animals arrived in the kitchen with their heads and feet intact.
In short, TV animals have to go through a rigorous audition process too as they have to look as they would have done in the 1900s.
“It’s very much about the visuals, so I have to cast the food,” Heathcote says. “I’m always looking at stuff and saying, 'No, it’s the wrong shape.' People must think I’m mad.”
The food is not always what it appears to be
If you’ve ever salivated over one of Mrs Patmore’s creations, we’ve got news for you: it probably isn’t what you thought it was.
Heathcote explains, “Fish can’t sit around on set, so I often cheat it with cream cheese and colouring. If another fish dish is required, I make chicken breasts and slightly mask them with a sauce. We call it chicken-fish.” Mmmm.
Practically all the food is cold
Yes, even those dishes that look like they would warm your very soul are in fact stone cold – for "health and safety reasons."
The only exception is breakfast (although it's unclear why), plus Hugh Bonneville likes hot sausages. Who doesn't, Lord Grantham, who doesn't.
Mrs Patmore, the cook, is not so much of a cook
Yes, this has shattered our world view: the head of the Downton Abbey kitchen is a bit of a Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen.
Lesley Nicol, who plays Patmore, explains, "She is always tasting and garnishing – and shouting – so I don’t have to do anything very technical."
Oh Mrs Patmore, give poor Daisy a raise.