She gives a wide smile as she gently adds the last of four eggs to the dough being kneaded in her mixer. “It’s coming together nicely,” Valerie Bertinelli recently said on-camera while turning to the camera like an old friend to share her enthusiasm for baking. “I love the magic! You put together flour, eggs, butter and sugar and out comes something special.”

These are happy days for Valerie, 58, who after a lifetime of acting on TV series like One Day at a Time and Hot in Cleveland, has launched a second career in the kitchen. “I’ve been in front of the camera since I was 12 years old [but] I have been cooking longer than I have been acting,” the star — who hosts a new Food Network series, Family Food Showdown — explained at the TCA Winter Press Tour on February 12. “I was never quite comfortable acting. Now, I’m just able to be me and cook.”

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Food and family have always played big roles in Valerie’s life. “I would sit in my aunt Adeline’s basement and watch my Noni make cappelletti in brodo, gnocchi and her fried bread. I learned to make that — I was 6 years old, probably,” she remembered. By age 10, Valerie had mastered her mom’s lasagna and cherry cheesecake. “It was something I loved, hanging out in the kitchen and watching my mom,” she said.

When she became a mom herself, Valerie passed many afternoons making meals for her son, Wolfgang Van Halen, 27, from her first marriage to rocker Eddie Van Halen. “He would be doing his homework and I would be cooking dinner — it was the best way for us to spend time after school,” Valerie said, admitting that she purposely made dishes that required a lot of prep time, like meatloaf or soup, so that she had an excuse to stay in the room and make sure he finished his algebra.

Valerie’s talent, professionalism and likable personality have allowed her to stay a working actress for most of her life, but she confessed that TV Land’s decision to end Hot in Cleveland in 2015 after six successful seasons mystified her. “Hot in Cleveland was the easiest job in the world,” Valerie said, adding that canceling the show “was [the] stupidest thing they ever did.”

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Still, she’s grateful that the opening in her schedule brought her to the Food Network, where she has hosted four series including Valerie’s Home Cooking. “There are not a lot of roles for a 58-year-old, so to be able to do something that I love and share it with people is a gift,” Valerie said.

She’s also amused that the fans she meets now don’t address her by her sitcom characters’ names. “I don’t get Barbara Cooper. I don’t even hear Melanie Moretti anymore. [They say], ‘Oh, I saw your show. You make it look so easy to make such and such.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m really a Food Network personality now.’”

Valerie Bertinelli
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That’s just fine with Valerie. She’s been having a wonderful time on camera and backstage where she works with a culinary team to write new recipes for her episodes. “I’m exploring and I’m being creative. And that’s where your brain and your heart can soar,” she said. “It just gets me super excited.”

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