“I have to eat dessert every day of my life, even if it’s just a piece of dark chocolate,” says Ali Larter, nibbling on an afternoon snack of fresh fruit at a Beverly Hills café. The 37-year-old New Jersey native—married to actor Hayes MacArthur and mom to toddler son Teddy—spent nearly 365 days gathering (AND SAMPLING!) more than 100 of her favorite recipes for her new cookbook, Kitchen Revelry. She even put on 5 pounds while she was creating this witty love letter to entertaining. Over a soy cappuccino, the self-described “bad-girl Martha Stewart” chatted about everything from breaking wineglasses at parties to shedding that dreaded holiday weight gain.
Tell us what inspired you to write this book.
I left home when I was almost 18 and traveled around the world as a model. In Japan or Italy—where I didn’t know anybody—food was always my way to make a connection with people. When I moved to New York in my 20s, I wanted to throw dinner parties. But I threw one, and it was such a disaster! I attempted to make complicated recipes I had never tried before—I was panicked the whole night.
Obviously you have come a long way since then.
Now I can’t go a month without throwing a dinner party. For me, entertaining has become a metaphor for life. If you mess up, laugh at it and order in pizza. What’s important is putting yourself out there.
It’s so easy, when you’re entertaining, to worry that your guests are judging you by your flatware.
You are your hardest critic. When people come over, they don’t care about the table settings or the linens or the outcome. What they care about is being there with you and having a nice evening together.
Do you apply this newfound philosophy outside the kitchen as well?
Yes. I was exhausting myself with the pressure of doing everything right. I’m a doer by nature. If I have a 10-hour day, I’m probably still going to work out and cook dinner, too.
It sounds as if cooking is therapeutic for you.
When I have a crazy day, I enjoy chopping and cooking—it relaxes me. But then there are times when I’m in the middle of cooking and my son is running around, and I just leave it. I see that he needs me and cooking isn’t working right now.
What do you consider your go-to outfit as a hostess?
I love wrap dresses. I also like a great pair of old jeans with a nice T-shirt. I just add some bold jewelry and bright red lipstick to glam it up.
So, what makes you the bad-girl Martha Stewart?
My approach is definitely messier. I try to create an environment where people aren’t scared if they break a wineglass.
With all your entertaining, how do you manage to squeeze into those jeans?
I tend to work out for an hour about four days a week, and I love to run. It’s the quickest way, with my busy schedule, to be able to enjoy my life and keep my weight at where I want it to be. Sometimes I grab a trashy magazine and hit the treadmill. But I prefer to go for a nice run outside. It’s a huge de-stressor for me.
Have you tried any new workouts lately?
I filmed a movie last year called Lovesick, and I played a ballet teacher. I took 10 ballet lessons, and I loved it. My body really responded to it, so I have been taking barre classes.
You once talked about the pressure to look perfect in Hollywood. Do you still feel that pressure?
I do, but I am more self-aware now. Your physicality is a huge part of your career as an actress. I just read this article where Cindy Crawford said that by the time she’s 50, she’s going to come to terms with her body. [Sighs]
Have you come to terms with your body?
I think about it more than I’d like to, and I’d rather be reading a book. That being said, I work out, I eat well. I eat badly sometimes, too. But it’s hard to impress me with a body that hasn’t had a baby. Have a baby and then let’s talk.
Some actresses seem to lose the baby weight in two weeks. Did you feel as if you had to snap back into shape immediately?
I wasn’t in a rush to go back to work, so being home with my son will always be one of the best times of my life. A lot of women say that they breast-feed and the pounds come right off. [Laughs] For women who gain 25 pounds, that’s probably true. But for me and [actresses like] Busy [Philipps], who enjoy our cake, it’s not going to come off in two months. I gained 45 pounds. Mine came off at about five months, after working out a lot and doing a food delivery service.
Do you have any secrets to healthy cooking?
I have nothing fried in my book—not even my meatballs!—because I don’t think you need to be cooking that way at home. I don’t usually cook with a lot of butter, either. I’d rather top something with a little butter than hide it in the inside.
You have a section in your book devoted to Detox. Should we be afraid?
It’s not a cleanse. I always put on 5 to 7 pounds in that stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After the holidays, I tend to clear out the pretzels and crackers and gravitate toward a vegetable-based diet. I’m usually hungry in the beginning. But then I start to crave fruit rather than an ice cream sundae. Like most women, I can’t eat half a brownie. It’s just not who I am. I go for it, and then I try to be better. You have to enjoy life, right?