Hallmark makes an abundance of movies every year, and their very successful slate requires each movie to have a distinct flavor.
One of the most flavorful comes via A Pinch of Portugal, a delightful film filmed entirely on location with a veritable feast of delectable local food and scenery.
Heather Hemmens stars in A Pinch of Portugal as Anna, a prep cook for a celebrity chef. Right before a location shoot abroad, Chef Dean decides to prove his value to his network by remaining behind.
With the whole crew already in Portugal, Anna gets the opportunity of a lifetime to make her mark as an entertaining and capable chef in her own right.
A Pinch of Portugal went straight to Heather's heart as she's been keeping an exciting secret: she's a certified chef!
Heather explained, "I went to culinary school several years ago just for fun. It was something to do on my time off, and I've always loved to cook."
If you're a fan of TV cooking competitions, you might have noticed how often family plays a role in a chef's love for the craft. Heather's mom is from Costa Rica, and she and Heather explored her native country's dishes and expanded on them.
"It's always been a way that my family bonded and spent time together," Heather said. "And so, when this movie came around, I was like, 'Oh, how perfect.'
And as you can see on camera, I was able to do a lot of the preparation and cooking while doing the dialogue and filming, which was no easy task, especially for someone who isn't a certified chef. So, I was actually so glad that I had that training when I shot this movie, and it just kind of ended up that way accidentally.
"But I have an amazing journey myself with food, and being able to live out Anna's dreams through her food journey was really, really fun. And it's actually made me consider doing a little cooking blog or something because I really, really enjoyed it."
Heather is a multi-tasker by nature, so when she's cooking with family and friends, they're usually doing more than just cooking. "we're talking about travel or whatever we've been doing, we're catching up, and at the same time I'm preparing our meal."
That experience gave her a feel for what it might be like to have a cooking show of her own (which I couldn't help but suggest might be an excellent fit for Hallmark!), but reciting dialogue and fancy footwork for the camera was much different.
"That took another level of concentration that I wasn't used to, but I did feel very comfortable and confident with it because of my personal relationship with food. And I was just very grateful at the time that I wasn't someone who was a stranger to the kitchen."
It wasn't only Heather's love for cooking that excited her about A Pinch of Portugal. She had never visited the country, but her friends had shared their enthusiasm for the culture, and she had hoped to find time to go.
"And then, just by sheer chance, I got to spend a month there filming this movie. So, I got to be very immersed in the culture and the food and all the touristy experiences, but also the small quaint towns with the local people. It was just such a well-rounded trip for me. I'm so grateful for it."
Heather said that the crew they worked with in Portugal was top-notch, which fit very well into the well-oiled machine that comes with every Hallmark production. This was Hallmark's first production in the country, but Heather said you wouldn't have known it.
"It could not have been better. They were so prepared for the demands of the schedule. And it was one of the best crews I've ever worked with, honestly, and the nicest people.
"And I've heard that they're actually shooting a lot of productions there, coming up. I think there's a big film coming and some TV shows are starting to shoot there. So, it's no surprise that this industry in Portugal is booming because they really knocked it out of the park."
Heather also fell in love with Anna's food journey in A Pinch of Portugal as she stepped up to the plate in a way she never expected. "I really loved her finding her confidence in this world, that she's kind of a late bloomer to the chef TV world.
"She grew up working in her family's diner, and she's very humble about her skillset. And I just love the fact that she emerges triumphant in not only being a leader but discovering the talents that she has been hiding even from herself.
"So, I think the most important journey, wherever she ends up with this food show, I can't say, but I think that she is already winning in the fact that she just enters into her destiny. She kind of stepped into her own light, and that's something that she can take with her forever, wherever she ends up."
Heather and Anna's journeys coexisted in A Pinch of Portugal because of their connection to food and entertainment, but also because some of the filming -- at a spectacular market in the Cascais district in Lisbon called Mercado da Vila Cascais -- was done during regular market hours.
Keep that in mind when you watch because the cast and crew were intermingling with the real people at the market, whose regular business hours weren't affected by the production. It gives the movie a remarkably authentic feel that you recognize even without knowing the reality behind filming there.
"It added a liveliness that I don't think we would've gotten had we shut down the whole market and had a bunch of extras pretending to shop.
"It was very much a working market on a Sunday, and we were able to collaborate with that environment. And I think it added so much energy and authenticity to what a Portuguese market looks like.
"That's what it was. We didn't have to fake it. We were in a live market, and what you see is what you get. And it was so beautiful. I had so much fun just running around that market, tasting everything and asking questions to the vendors, partly as myself and partly as Anna.
"I had a genuine curiosity for the offerings there. And so yeah, it was very, very fun to explore and such a challenge to do what we needed technically but integrate into their Sunday morning grocery runs."
Although none of her own explorations made it to screen, Heather shared there were unscripted moments of improvisation. "It's just me walking around the market having conversations, and so I'm as Anna, but those were times when I was able to throw in my own questions about some ingredients or the origin of some of the seafood.
"So, I was able to sneak my own curiosity in as Anna, but just for some more ad-lib moments. And then, of course, in between takes and setups, I was just having a great time talking to local people and the vendors and was able to get some more information that helped me when the cameras were rolling."
During the month-long production, Heather had a chance to be a tourist, and the food and culture won her heart.
"There are so many variations on their popular dishes, like pastel de nata. Everyone, every quarter that you go to, has an amazing bakery that serves pastel de nata. However, there are apparently only three recipes in Portugal that they all work from, and they're secret."
Like any self-respecting foodie, Heather made it a goal to visit as many vendors as possible to see what made each variant dish tick.
"It was very interesting to go around and taste all the different ones. But there's a similarity in the crust and the filling from several vendors on this side of the city, and then you can see a slight variance on the other side of the city, for example. So, that was interesting to me.
"And then, also they have a dish called Bolinho de bacalhau, which is a codfish croquette, and it's one of my favorite things. I loved codfish croquettes before I even got to Portugal. And so, for every restaurant that I went to, I made sure to try it if it was on the menu.
"And that was interesting too, because that one, actually, every restaurant does differently, and they swear that theirs is the best. And I really had to agree with them. Every time I ate it, I was like, Yes, yours is the best.'
"Then I would go to a different restaurant, I'd be like, 'No, this is the best.' Their signature dishes are lovely, but just in general, I found their restaurants to be elevated from your normal tourist experience. The food was so well-prepared and healthy and indulgent at the same time."
Should you ever have the opportunity to visit Lisbon, Heather has a restaurant recommendation for you.
"I went to this restaurant called 100 Maneiras, and I actually went there several times. It was so good. I went back several times. I brought several people with me each time. I was like, you have to come. And they had items on the menu that I had not had outside of Portugal. And so, that was fun experimentation.
"I understand that the menu changes almost daily, so I can't quote their menu, but that's why it was such a good experience going back several times 'cause I was able to try so many different dishes.
The preparation and the sauces that they used, the seasonings that they used were just unlike any other flavors that I'd had. They really felt authentic to Portugal, and it was a fusion of Bosnian food as well because the chef was Bosnian. And it just blew my mind, all the flavors that they had."
Heather loves that Portugal's culinary delights mix many fusions with chefs from all over the world settling there and opening a wide array of restaurants, merging local and their native cuisines. "It's a very diverse country, and that's something that shows up in their food as well."
This isn't the first time Heather has visited a far-off destination for a Hallmark production, but it is the first where the location was a much a character in the film as the characters themselves.
"With Caribbean Summer, it was supposed to be an island in The Bahamas, but we shot all over beautiful Belize, which is one of the most stunning places I've ever been, and their local little restaurants and their environment were so lovely, and I kind of wish that Belize had gotten the same credit.
"That was such a great movie. It was so fun to film. And no one knows that it was shot in little old Belize. And I think that everyone should know that Belize should get the credit for that. It was really an incredible place to shoot."
Because TV Fanatic readers were big fans of Roswell, New Mexico, we asked Heather how satisfied she was with Maria's overall story arc and how it ended.
"I loved Maria's overall arc. I think she had the opposite journey of a lot of characters. She started out kind of hardened and with a lot of walls up, and over the course of the series, we watched her soften and become vulnerable and openly loving and accepting. And I think that's an interesting character journey.
"Normally, a lot of characters start out weaker, and then they become strong. And not to say that she developed into a weaker character, but she came into her vulnerability, which I think is a place in life that we all have to get to, is acceptance.
"When we have those walls up, we can't accept wonderful things and relationships and help and love into our lives when we're shutting things out. And she really came to a place of openness that I thought was beautiful. So yeah, I loved her journey. I'm very happy with where it ended."
"I think the last season, especially when her mom passed, that was a beautiful arc to the season and something that had been percolating throughout the entire series. So, I'm glad that that storyline was wrapped up.
"And I'll miss Maria. Maria was fun. She was a lot of fun, but I had a great time with her, and I'm just grateful for that entire experience. Four Seasons; what more can you ask for with TV? That was a great run, and we put our heart into the whole thing."
The connection between Roswell and A Pinch of Portugal is how Heather's presence gives her characters and productions a fresh, down-to-earth feel. Whether she's playing a chef with skills almost equal to her own or a Human-Oasian Hybrid with paranormal abilities, her own authentic flavor sweetens the deal.
To experience the savory delight yourself, tune in to Hallmark Channel at 8/7 this Saturday, April 22.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.