Actor and entertaining authority, David Burtka, who has always had a flair for cooking, chats with us about his latest cookbook, Life Is a Party, and a few of his best entertaining tips.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in NYC?
DB: I love soul food up in Harlem. I’m a big fan of Melba’s. That’s a great restaurant. She’s amazing. I also love Geoffrey Zakarian’s Lamb’s Club, I really love Carbone. That’s a really great Italian restaurant. I just went to Sushi of Gari last night, which is great on the Upper East Side, and their sushi is really strong.
Your fabulous new book, Life Is a Party, offers some very doable recipes for the home cook. Is there a fool-proof one you love most?
DB: I have to say there is a fool-proof recipe that will wow the socks off people that’s also incredibly easy. It’s in the “Summer Solstice” section of the cookbook and you literally dump everything in a Tupperware container the night before and then bake it the next day. It is a Mediterranean chicken that has olives, capers, apricots, plums. Then you sprinkle brown sugar on it and douce it with wine and bake it.
What’s your signature dish?
DB: I would have to say the porcini rub rib eye that I grill. You take porcini mushrooms and you grind them up into a powder, you add brown sugar and chili flakes as well as pepper and salt, and then you pat it into the steak and grill it. It's very delicious. Serve it alongside roasted tomatoes that have been slow roasted or with an arugula salad with lemon on top.
Do you have a drink of choice?
DB: Right now we’re in the summer, so there is a mojito slushie that’s really great to beat the heat. You freeze lime ice cubes with simple syrup, add rum and the ice cubes and blend it into a slushie. They are dangerous because you can have one and be on the floor, haha. It's so good I can't even taste the alcohol. But you can also do a virgin version. My kids love them because you can do them without alcohol and it's really refreshing: mint, lime, sugar… slushie.
Ethel Kennedy once told me, “The secret to throwing a good party is to put all of the boring people at the same table.” What’s your secret?
DB: She wasn’t wrong, but I’ll take it one step further. You put the interesting people in the middle and the boring people on the ends because all of the energy will draw into the center of the table. I like to put the more quiet, introverted people next to the host so they feel safe and that they have a safe person next to them. But it’s always good to put the extroverts in the middle because they draw attention to the center and get the party going. I’m a big fan of the idea that if you sleep together, you don’t sit together at a party. Some people hate that. Sometimes if I’m feeling clingy toward my husband, “I want to sit next to you, I don’t know these people.” But I usually have a great time if I’m sitting next to strangers and you learn stuff that you don't necessarily know. It’s a whole different experience because if you're sitting next to your spouse, then you’re just really going to talk to them most of the night and feel comfortable.
Who would be your dream dinner party guest?
DB: Noel Coward would be great because he was so witty. He always had one liners. He could play the piano for a little entertainment. I would say Julia Child and Noel Coward, Cole Porter to bring a little entertainment.
If a food fight broke out, what would be your weapon of choice? What would you grab on the table?
DB: Oh, that’s a hard one… I think the ultimate weapon has got to be something like mashed potatoes. Get it all over the place. That sounds horrible. A food fight is horrible.