Hollywood actresses are notoriously private, but in this interview Blake Lively grants Savoir Flair access to a rarely-before-seen side of herself, delving into her childhood memories to recall her mother’s cooking and afternoons spent trolling through thrift stores, sharing stories about her romance with husband Ryan Reynolds, and discussing her true obsession in life, food. We’ve all gotten to know and love Blake Lively as both an actress and a fashion icon, but she’s now slowly shedding that persona, reinventing herself as a lifestyle entrepreneur and committed foodie.
During her time on the Gossip Girl set, she made no secret of the fact that her dream was to launch her own company, drawing on her love for food and cooking. Lively famously first seduced her husband Ryan Reynolds with a wicked combination of “cupcakes and smiles” while shooting the film Green Lantern in 2010. “I spent a lot of my spare time cooking on the set in New Orleans and I kept feeding Ryan cupcakes,” she tells us. “It was just a way to sabotage Ryan. He was working out so much, and I was the girl in the movie. I’m supposed to be the good-looking one. It wasn’t fair. So, I tried to sabotage him with cupcakes and smiles.” For Lively, it was just a matter of finding a concept to match her natural inventiveness, fashion sense, and foodie passion. Now, with the launch of her new website Preserve, the actress is on the way to becoming the world’s next big lifestyle guru.
Sabotage or not, Reynolds was evidently impressed by Blake’s culinary skills more than either of them could have imagined. Although their romance took a while to flourish, three years later they exchanged wedding vows and Blake confesses to being “ridiculously happy”. She was looking for a man like Reynolds with whom she could begin a different kind of life, one that was less centered on her acting career and more on indulging her passion for cooking and homemaking and building a “big family” of her own. She’s devoted the past two years to developing Preserve, a digital monthly magazine, video blog, and e-commerce venture that promotes and sells artisan-made or indie-brand products as well as talented handicrafts people who have a knack for making things. “It’s been a dream of mine to get this project off the ground,” she shared.
While she continues to act, having just finished work on a romantic drama, The Age of Adaline, and is involved with multiple brands including L’Oréal, Chanel, and Gucci Première, cooking remains her true obsession. She even involves her husband Ryan in the operation; “We like to grill outdoors. I handle the preparation and the marinating of the meats, and he gets to stand over the hot grill!”
What made you want to start your own lifestyle website, Preserve?
After Gossip Girl ended, I really wanted to spend time doing something else with my life other than acting. I’ve wanted to enjoy my time with Ryan and focusing on other interests that I have. I’ve always been interested in food and handicrafts, and this website is something I’ve been working on with a great team of people for the last two years. I’m very excited about it and I hope the public will enjoy it.
Do you like the idea of having two parallel careers?
It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out. But really I have two passions and I think that ultimately I will always be doing both – although one is going to be paying the bills better than the other. [Laughs]
You’ve spoken in the past about having grown up with a natural curiosity for handiwork, antiques, and craftsmanship. Did this fuel your interest?
It was a very natural transition for me. Preserve is everything that I grew up around in a big way. My mom is somebody who made everything by hand, and anything she didn’t make by hand was a discovery and the discovery was often something that was found in a thrift store that was half broken or falling apart. Or it was something an artisan only made a few of, but we couldn’t afford so we would just go and look at it every day and one day she would just buy it and hide it from my dad.
You’ve made no secret of the fact that, other than acting, your passion is cooking.
I like to tell people that I’m really a cook by nature and an actress by accident! [Laughs] I’ve been able to work at some incredible restaurants and learn from some of the world’s greatest chefs, and that’s been such a thrill for me. I feel I have a natural gift for cooking. I can get incredibly passionate about coming up with different dishes and learning how to prepare food and create different flavors and tastes. That’s where the art comes into play and the best chefs are truly masters at gastronomy. I love to cook for my friends, and I can spend hours and hours in my kitchen trying out different ideas and learning to prepare meals with the kind of incredible attention to detail and taste that chefs spend years and years perfecting.
Was your mother also an influence on your cooking?
My mother Elaine was such an amazing cook! She would make the best cakes and pies on earth. But it wasn’t just her cooking that was important and made a big impression on me; it was how baking was her way of celebrating the day, especially on Thanksgiving or Christmas. I would sometimes bring cakes that my mother made to school and all the kids in class would be so happy. That’s the kind of joy that I associate with baking and cooking in general. Sitting down for a big family dinner or cooking with friends should always be an occasion for celebration.
Do you have any particular culinary style that you’re most fond of?
I like exploring culinary styles from different cultures and understanding how each country or region developed its own cuisine. That’s so fascinating to me. I’ve also gotten to explore Cajun cuisine and I’ve become very interested in that. I also love French and Italian and California styles of cooking. One day I know I’m going to open my own restaurant in New York and develop a southern-style menu that draws from European cuisine.
You first developed an interest in European culture when you went to Paris at age 15.
Yes. My brother Eric took me to Europe as a birthday present. Going through that experience of being an American in Paris and learning to make your way around and seeing a different culture in a beautiful city is something you never forget. It was a very special moment for me. I really owe a lot to my brother, because he wanted me to think more about my life and what I wanted to do with myself. He was very encouraging as well as practical, and I don’t think a girl could ask more from a brother than that, especially when you’re young and really confused and bewildered by so many things in life. I probably wouldn’t have become an actress had it not been for him prodding me.
Do you make it a habit of visiting and exploring restaurants when you travel abroad?
Whenever I travel in Europe I always make it a point to spend a lot of time going to restaurants and also learning about the different kinds of cuisine you find in each city or country. You learn so much about the culture of a country through its cuisine, and it’s so exciting for me to be able to understand all the different culinary traditions and influences. It’s like learning history through food.
Fashion, acting, and cooking. Which one is the real obsession?
Cooking is my obsession. I spend most of my free time in the kitchen trying out different recipes, going to restaurants, and speaking to great chefs whenever I have the chance or if they let me in on some of their secrets! [Laughs] When it comes to fashion, it’s more of a fun thing. I also inherited my interest in fashion from my mom. Long before Gossip Girl came along, I was already very interested in clothes and experimenting with different materials and how to mix and match different styles. My mom would even make outfits for me. She had done some modeling and then worked as an actress, and she often took me with her to all these wild vintage fashion shops when I was growing up. She always made sure that I dressed nicely – nothing wild or lavish, but not sloppily. Fashion was something I was always interested in, but in a casual way. Now of course it’s something I’ve come to be much more involved in creatively and personally, and getting to know designers like Karl Lagerfeld has been such a thrill and an education for me.
You seem to have a pretty positive personality. Do you also get that from your mother?
She would always tell me and my sister, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” That’s pretty much served as my personal mantra when things get complicated in life and you want to feel sorry for yourself. I try not to let myself go there, because it doesn’t do you any good anyway and that’s the time when you need to energize yourself even more rather than mope around. I’m usually in pretty good spirits and I like to think I bring a positive mood to the people around me. My feeling is that, if you have self-confidence and a strong sense of determination, good things are going to happen to you. You can make your own luck even when life may throw some roadblocks in your way. Even as a little girl, I would think to myself, “It’s a good day to be happy!” That kind of feeling has stayed with me pretty much my entire life and I hope I never lose that.
What were you like growing up?
Well, I was kind of quiet and shy. I had problems in high school with some of the other girls and, because I was tall, I felt insecure about standing out in a crowd when I really just wanted to disappear and be alone. So I was kind of withdrawn and I spent a lot of time by myself and lost in my own thoughts.
How did you overcome your shyness?
It wasn’t until I started taking acting classes that I was able to overcome my shyness and awkwardness in social situations. When I was 15 or 16, I started becoming much more outgoing and enthusiastic with people because I had spent so much time being this strange introvert when deep down I was longing to have fun and be expressive. Acting did that for me; it allowed me to become less inhibited and more open to people – although I’m still slow to make friends. I’m not the type of person who, within a few minutes of meeting someone, wants to exchange phone numbers. It takes me time to feel comfortable with someone.
How do you keep your head straight when you’ve attracted so much attention especially for your fashion sense as well as your acting work?
I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to be where I am. I know how hard my family has worked to earn a living in this business, so I never think I’m something special because I’ve had a certain amount of success. There’s nothing more important to me than my family and friends, because they will always be a part of your world and who you are in life.
How have you settled in married life with Ryan Reynolds?
It’s been wonderful. We like doing everything together. He loves helping me choose things for the house, he’s interested in all types of cuisine, and he says he loves everything I cook for him – he’s such a good liar! [Laughs] We help each other when we’re preparing our characters for a new film. It’s great to be partners like that with someone you love.