Actor turned Cordon Bleu-trained chef David Burtka was surrounded by friends and family, including husband Neil Patrick Harris, Christina Hendricks, Turner Classic Movies host Dave Karger and Willam Belli for a splashy soiree last week hosted by Nancy Silverton at Osteria Mozza, celebrating his new cookbook, Life is a Party.
The handsome hardcover is a collection of 106 recipes, 300 party tips ranging from playlists to tablescapes and a show stopping 275 pictures shot over of a year by Amy Neunsinger and Danielle Levitt to highlight all four seasons. Burtka wanted to see snow on the ground, the leaves changing in the fall and the fresh produce of spring. There are tips and recipes to celebrate everything from snow days and summer picnics to pumpkin-carving brunches.
"What's fun is you can see our kids grow within the book — my son has four different haircuts," Burtka tells L.A.Weekly in a corner table of Silverton’s West Hollywood Osteria.
Cooking is a family affair for Burtka, Harris and their eight-year-old twins Harper and Gideon, and all those memories come to life in the pages of the book.
"My son came up with the chicken tot pie, which is a chicken pot pie with tater tots instead of pastry crust on top," says Burtka in between bites of antipasti.
"My daughter created the sweet meringue popcorn. One day she was experimenting with making meringues and piped all these little dots out and after we dried them out in the oven, they were the size of popped corn. Then Neil had the idea 'Wouldn't it be great to take popcorn and meringues together for a sweet and salty combination.' We love cooking together as a family. My daughter makes us pancakes for breakfast and my son is a genius at making slow scrambled eggs."
After working on Broadway for years, including dancing with Sam Mendes and Bernadette Peters, Harris landed the How I Met Your Mother gig and the couple moved to L.A. Burtka soon realized what a tricky place the city was for a theater actor as he started auditioning for a lot of roles he didn’t want to go in for and experienced a period of rejection.
It was time for a change.
"I got a call from my mom," says Burtka. "She was in the hospital starting chemo because she had leukemia. I immediately flew back to Detroit, where I’m from, and 20 days later she was gone. Boom. Just like that. In situations like that life takes a turn. I starting thinking about things and really didn’t want to go back to the acting world. I asked myself, well what else do I love to do? I love to cook, it’s so therapeutic for me. To de-stress I’d make chicken stock."
"So I jumped into culinary school, Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. My mom had left me some money that my dad didn’t know about. The money she left me was, to the exact cent, what cooking school cost."
His very first job right out of culinary school was for good friend Christina Hendricks, who reunited with Burtka at the party last week, which was sponsored by Capital One’s new Savor card (his latest obsession, with its four percent cash back on dining and entertainment purchases.) He catered her Christmas party for 200 people and the whole Mad Men cast and did it all with just one partner.
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"We had no staff," he says. "For three days leading up we just worked and worked and didn’t sleep and that was the start of my catering company in Los Angeles called Gourmet MD."
The rest is culinary history. And as any good chef will admit, some of the best things in life and cookery stem from disasters, trial and error.
"There’s a chapter in the book on charity dinners and how to cook for a multitude of people," says the lifestyle guru. "So I wanted to do a fish dish. I tried my hardest to take four pounds of fish and cook it all at once and it was a disaster. I tried it three or four times and my kids started pleading, 'Please, we can’t eat another bite of lemon sole anymore, we are done with lemon sole.' I finally got it right and it’s one of my favorite recipes in the book."