How Saved by the Bell Helped Turn Tiffani Theissen Into a Culinary Star

In many ways Tiffani Thiessen's culinary career dates back to age 16, when she was playing Kelly Kapowski on the '90s hit series Saved by the Bell.

Photo: Rebecca Sanabria

In many ways Tiffani Thiessen’s culinary career dates back to age 16, when she was playing Kelly Kapowski on the ’90s hit series Saved by the Bell.

“I was touring with Mark-Paul Gosselaar in Europe and was learning about different cultures and cooking techniques,” the actress tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “So I started doing my own research, watching other people cook and trying different styles of food. My love of entertaining and cooking truly came from traveling.”

Thiessen’s experience with food on set was a whole different story. Though many episodes took place at the after-school diner, The Max, “It was not a real working diner, it was a set,” says Thiessen, “and the food was always brought in. By the time we got it, it was cold, quite a few hours old, and not so great.”

Now, Gosselaar is one of many former costars who pop up on Thiessen’s Cooking Channel show Dinner at Tiffani’s, currently in its third season. “You see these celebrities in a casual place, where they’re stuffing their faces and drinking and being silly,” she says.

WATCH THIS: Take a Tour of Tiffani Thiessen’s Kitchen and Insanely Organized Pantry

Other notable guest stars include Saved by the Bell‘s Elizabeth Berkley and Mario Lopez, Beverly Hills 90210‘s Jason Priestley and White Collar‘s Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer. “It took three seasons to get Matt on the show, but he’s been wanting to do it and he had a great time,” says Thiessen. “It’s always about scheduling. If you’re offering very good food and drinks, who’s going to say no to that?”

For more on Thiessen including her kid-friendly pea and spaghetti carbonara recipe, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.

The idea for the series—which Thiessen, 43, took to the network while she was starring on White Collar—was inspired by the many “enormous feasts” she would host at home with her husband, artist-actor Brady Smith. “For us, it’s like having people over and there just happen to be cameras there,” says Smith.

When she’s not playing hostess, Thiessen is cooking for her two children, Harper, 6, and Holt, 20 months. “The kitchen is where I spend the most time,” she says. “I try to plan our meals for the week on Sunday. It’s a lot of prep—usually during nap time.”

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