Cooking Rules

In the Kitchen With Scandal’s Darby Stanchfield

The actress chats about growing up in Alaska, her love of tea, and who is the best cook on Scandal.

What was it like growing up in Alaska? “The way that I grew up, we ate very whole, real, natural foods. We had salmonberries and blue berries that were wild on the island and morel mushrooms that we’d hunt for and literally dry. And, of course, lots of fishing and seafood. My dad was a fisherman. So, there were a lot of ingredients to eat right from where I was from.”

When you’re at home in L.A., do you cook a lot? “I do. I garden. I have an herb garden and right now I’m growing three different kinds of lettuce and arugula and some hot peppers and some tomatoes. [I have] kumquat trees, avocado trees, Meyer lemon trees and orange trees. It’s a small garden but it’s what I have time to grow.”

A bit different than what you could grow in Alaska. “A little bit different but the same principle. You know? Enjoying the fruits of the earth.”

Do you miss the seasonality of Alaska? “I get homesick for snow and for winter and for seasons and, really, for weather patterns. But L.A. has some of the best weather, so who can complain when it’s 80 degrees and sunny?”

Seasons also really inform what you eat and drink. Was that a big change for you? “Yes. For instance, I used to be a really big hot beverage person and I’m a big tea drinker, so now it’s iced tea for me because of the weather.”

Were you always a tea drinker? “I have. Living in Alaska it was always nice to have a cup of something warm. But I’ve drank tea for many, many years. I’ve always had a love for teas and I have an even more appreciation for it now after going to Indonesia and shooting a documentary with Pure Leaf.”

It blew my mind when I learned that all varieties of tea are made from the same plant but it’s the way the leaves are dried and processed that creates the differences. “Yes! Here’s another thing I learned in Indonesia with Pure Leaf, that there is a direct correlation between the quality of tea, if it’s good or not, and how carefully it’s picked. I had no idea. I actually was out there picking tea. It’s two leaves in a bud and there is a very specific method. It’s like an art form. It’s incredible.”

Some teas have a lot of caffeine. Do you have to stop drinking tea at a certain hour? “I’m such a good sleeper that I can have tea any time of day and I will have no problem taking a nap. I’m a professional napper. So, I need an alarm clock and I love my tea. So, I enjoy it at all hours.”

Is the cast of Scandal close? Do you all hangout off the set? “We’re a close cast. We have these viewing parties at Jeff Perry’s house, who plays Cyrus Beene, and it’s sort of a potluck and we’ll all bring a dish and share. Sometimes we’ll order out but there are a lot of cooks on our show.”

Is there a particularly good cook in the cast? “I would say I am! If you look at my Instagram, every fourth photo is a recipe. I don’t eat out very much. I love to be at home in my kitchen. And I love to make things from scratch using real, simple ingredients. I like to know what’s in my food and in my drinks. It’s really important for me.”

Is that from growing up in Alaska? “I think it’s because I grew up in such a pure environment. There weren’t a lot of options up there. I literally grew up on powdered milk because we didn’t have any fresh, which is why I also love fresh ingredients and I love the real thing when you can get it.”

It sounds like you eat a very healthy diet. Do you fall prey to any food vices? “I believe balance is really important. I’m a big lover of desserts and chocolate but, again, if I’m going to indulge I want to know what the ingredients are and I want to do it well.”

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So, what are we talking about here, dark chocolate bars? “It’s probably something that I’ll bake, like chocolate chip cookies from scratch. Hot out of the oven, I mean come on, is there anything better? I’d rather do that than pick up something that’s been made eight months ago that’s in a package.”

Do you like to cook from cookbooks? “I do like cookbooks. I’ll open a cookbook and I’ll make a recipe and I end up writing notes in it and scratching out certain ingredients and adding new ones. My favorite thing on my cookbook shelf is a recipe box with index cards with my mother’s and grandmother’s handwriting and they’re old-school recipes. I’ve even updated those. Some of them are classics that you can’t touch. But I do enjoy a good recipe. I like to play off of those. They’re good guidelines.”

I have to ask do you also drink coffee? “I do. Who doesn’t when you work on a TV show 17 hours a day? I love coffee.”

Interview has been condensed and edited.