Interview //

David Burtka

The New-York based actor and chef says every day can be a party with his new book. We catch up to find out more...

Who doesn't love a party? Whether it is a summer barbeque or a snow day, there is always a reason to celebrate according to David Burtka. “I love gathering people I love in one place, celebrating with them, and making lasting memories,” he says.

A professional chef and actor, the 43-year-old is a renowned expert at entertaining, having thrown parties for everyone from Sharon Stone to Elton John.

When family, friends and followers on Instagram suggested he distill his knowledge into a book, he decided to take their advice and put his expertise to print. The result is ‘Life is a Party’, his debut publication, which features sixteen creative themes for hosting a celebration. While it is packed full of beautifully-styled, delicious recipes, it is much more than just another celebrity cookbook. Rather it is akin to a set of clever yet accessible blueprints for planning and hosting a memorable party. No detail is left out, from a ‘how-to’ on glitter-dipped champagne bottles for a blowout New Year’s Eve bash, to no-nonsense advice: “Never, ever run out of ice”.

“I woke up the morning of my birthday party and my mom had decorated the entire house with streamers.”

A flair for entertaining is a skill he seems to have inherited. He says his mother made he and his sister her personal assistants in the lead up to a party, entrusting them with tasks such as hand-rolling mini meatballs and peeling stripes into the skin of a cucumber. Special occasions were celebrated in style, such as when he turned seven, ”I woke up the morning of my birthday party and my mom had decorated the entire house with streamers. It’s my first memory of having an emotional connection to decoration.”

While food and events have always played a part in his life, he didn’t start out his career in hospitality, instead pursuing acting. He made his television debut on The West Wing then went on to tread the boards on Broadway. New York is also where he met his husband in 2004, the actor Neil Patrick Harris, who is famously known as playing the character Barney on the cult sitcom ‘How I Met Your Mother’ (in which Burtka also appeared for a number of episodes). The couple, who have been married for five years this September, have two children, eight-year-old twins, Gideon Scott and Harper Grace.

Burtka decided to switch his focus from acting to food just over a decade ago, after losing his mother to leukemia. “I needed a break from the cutthroat world of acting. I’d always loved to cook and it was soothing in a very stressful time in my life, so I decided to pursue it.” He trained at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school then went on to work with acclaimed chefs Cat Cora and Thomas Keller.

“I make sure I’m having a good time! Guests know when the host is stressed out so I make sure I’m prepared and relaxed while I’m hosting.”

What is his secret to hosting the perfect event? “Preparation. Make as many lists as possible.” He says that the key to be being a good host is to enjoy yourself. “I make sure I’m having a good time! Guests know when the host is stressed out so I make sure I’m prepared and relaxed while I’m hosting.” Burtka doesn’t gloss over the fact that planning a fabulous party takes effort, but his infectious enthusiasm makes it seem like fun. He has also made having a fabulous time appear easy with his detailed guides containing everything from playlists to suggestions for flowers, table styling and activities.

We caught up with the author of ‘Life is a Party’ in New York to discover more of his tips to creating an unforgettable celebration...

Why does everyone love a party?

People love to kick back, relax, and have fun! Eat, drink, celebrate. What’s not to love about that?!

What would you like people to take away from your book?

I hope that people are inspired to create memorable moments no matter if it’s a holiday or not and to treat each day like a celebration.

It looks like you had a lot of fun creating the book! Were there any memorable moments from the party photo shoots?

Both of my favorite memories are from the Snow Day photoshoot. The first is that the Peanut Butter Pie with Crunchy Chocolate Bark was so tempting that the crew ate the entire thing before we’d finished shooting it! We had to make a second. Also, we were so committed to capturing the seasons as they happened, that when it started to snow I called the kids’ school and said, “I’m taking them out for an hour!” so that we could shoot them on the steps of our home as the snow came down. It’s one of my favorite shots in the book.

Your go-to drink to get a party started?

I love the Mojito Slushies from the book. They’re cool and fun, and you only need a couple. They’re lethal.

A fail-safe song to instantly get guests into a party mood?

Music sets the tone of a party just as much as lighting, food, and décor do. Great music can make a party really special. My go to song is the classic Celebration by Kool and the Gang !

Your favorite recipe for entertaining?

I really love the Figs with Goat Cheese and Pink Peppercorn Honey. They’re deceptively simple, elegant, and figs are only in season for a short time which makes them all the more special.

How do you decorate a table?

I love to bring the outside in – beautiful floral arrangements, bits and pieces from nature. I also love to use old vases, platters, and dishes. Anything that has meaning will make a tablescape special. 

What is the most memorable party you have ever been to?

The most memorable party I’ve ever been to was a Fourth of July party in the Hamptons that was insanely over the top. There was a s’mores bar, a massive dessert bar, teepees filled with toys where the kids could pop in for seven seconds and grab as many toys as they could carry, huge bean bag chairs for guests to relax and watch the massive fireworks display, and food trucks including Mr Softee with that telltale ringing bell. It was incredible.

What has becoming a parent taught you?

So many things, but mostly just to listen, and that everyone walks their own path.

The key to a successful children's party?

Disposable plates and cutlery. Also, always have a special activity or craft, and bonus points if kids can get their hands dirty.

Three things to never forget when hosting?

Ice! Have a small snack ready when guests arrive (no one likes to stand around, wondering when the food will appear.) Have a smile.

Your top Meri Meri picks?

Confetti Balloons: These were a huge hit at the New Year’s Eve party we shot for the book. They fill up so much space that you don’t need many.
Gold Confetti Poppers: Another huge hit at the New Year’s Eve party. A year later and we’re still finding glitter under the furniture!
Gold Pinwheels: Another one of my favorite décor items. These really fill a space and as they spin, catch the light in a pretty way.
Lemon Napkins: These are adorable, for a kids’ party or an adult party or both! They’d brighten up any table.
Wooden Cutlery Set: These are perfect for any outdoor party and I like them especially for kids’ parties. When you throw a party for kids, you don’t want to use anything too precious.
Mini Fruit Garland: How cute is this?! I love all of Meri Meri’s garlands. For the Summer Picnic party in my book, we hung them from the trees at Central Park to tie the space together.

We’re giving away a copy of David Burtka’s Life is a Party book to one of our newsletter subscribers! The winner will be selected at random, so make sure you are registered for our emails to enter.

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To purchase the book please visit here for the US and here for the UK.



David Burtka

Instagram: @dbelicious

Styling: Pam Morris

Instagram: @pammorris