Life Is a Party

Deliciously Doable Recipes to Make Every Day a Celebration


By David Burtka

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$39.00 CAD



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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 16, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

106 killer recipes, 16 creative party themes, and 250 gorgeous photos–plus playlists and easy planning tips–make LIFE IS A PARTY the indispensable cookbook and guide for home cooks.

Chef, actor, and entertaining authority David Burtka knows that every day can be a party. Over a lifetime of throwing epic gatherings, the Cordon Bleu-trained Burtka has perfected the formula for creating easy and perfect get-togethers at home. Now, in the pages of his debut cookbook, he’s sharing all of his secrets and an intimate look into the lives of one of Hollywood’s favorite families. Everything you need to throw a memorable party, or to make a delicious weeknight meal, can be found right here.

Whether your event and budget are modest or you’re going all-out, and whether the guest list is an intimate crew or it’s a blowout bash, David’s sixteen party themes-from cozy game nights at home to elegant New Year’s fêtes-are built around doable, show-stopping menus that take the guesswork out of high-impact hosting. Complete with endless and fun ways to mix-and-match dishes, create stunning decor, prep ahead, and get guests involved, David helps you put all the elements in place to make every party a success without ever losing your cool.

At the heart of the book are David’s amazing recipes, including delicious twists on comfort classics like Corn Cakes with Bacon Jam, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, and Neapolitan Ice Cream Sandwich Cake. And you don’t need to wait for a party to try recipes like Ham, Egg, and Cheese Calzones; Mint Pesto Pasta; and Thyme and Gruyère Popovers. Never one to miss the opportunity to toast friends and family, David also shows you how to make delicious cocktails for a crowd: think Mojito Slushies, Charred Peach and Plum Sangria, and Cucumber-Lime Spritzers. So raise a glass and get cooking! Because there’s no better time than now to make your life a party.



Welcome to my party! I’m so excited you showed up.

IN A LIFE FULL OF OBLIGATIONS and things we have to do, choosing to create special gatherings that bring our loved ones together at the table is more important than ever. Think about the best parties you’ve ever been to: If you’re anything like me, they’ve been at home (yours or someone else’s), with great food and drink, amazing people, and—more than anything—fun! Because if it’s not a good time, what’s the point, right?

Those parties may have seemed effortless, but we all know they take work to pull off in style. That’s where I come in! I’m so excited to share everything I’ve learned from a lifetime of entertaining. From the big flourishes to those tiny touches that take a party from good to great, I’ve collected it all right here. I want you to think of me as your personal party planner, filled with exciting, doable ideas that will make your party even more of a celebration.

I’ve always been a big believer in the power of parties. Parties have this magical, transformative ability to create a wonderful feeling of connectedness and happiness—it’s undeniable! I mean, isn’t it just the best when you arrive at a party and find yourself surrounded by familiar and new faces, lots of thoughtfully prepared food, great drinks, and the perfect music? It’s like being infused with joy! I think we all need to go to and throw more parties, because we all need more of this wonderfully positive feeling in our lives on the regular. Life is too short not to party.

I have a large family filled with cooks and people who take food seriously, so I got the taste for catering and hosting very early in life. Every weekend, my family and a select assortment of friends would get together to eat and drink, whether it was for a birthday, a christening, or just to be together. From the time I was seven years old, I’d help my parents get ready for their parties—the party prep would start midday on Saturday and go well into the night.

My mother, who has had a huge influence on how I approach cooking and entertaining, always had a massive list of chores for me to do, and of course the ones that kept me in the kitchen were my favorites. She taught me how to make a killer crudités platter, showed me how to make stripes in cucumber skin by using a vegetable peeler and the best way to trim cauliflower and broccoli into perfect bite-size florets, and explained why you always need to wrap bell pepper slices in paper towels (otherwise, they get slimy). Sometimes the whole family would gather in the kitchen for hours, hand-rolling mini meatballs, enough for a party—and the rest to freeze for the remainder of the year. I learned early on that when you bring friends and family together for an event you designed with them in mind, people immediately feel special. They open up, the conversation flows, they laugh a little more—everyone seems just a little bit happier. Who doesn’t want a little more of that in their lives?

After graduating from culinary school and working with some top-notch chefs, I started my own catering company and threw parties for the likes of Christina Hendricks, Katy Perry, and Elon Musk. And while the Hollywood elite may have had high standards and demands, I loved it. I thrived!

I not only create focused and delicious dishes, but also bring a party to the next level with stunning tablescapes, elaborate decorations, perfect playlists—whatever it takes to make an event what it deserves to be: memorable and fabulous.

I loved the holidays even at a young age. Here I am dyeing Easter eggs (with a bad haircut).

Cooking for my catering company, Gourmet M.D.

My sister, Jen, me, and my mom at a holiday party.

That’s why I wanted to write this book: to share what I’ve learned. I want everyone in the world to stop waiting for the right reason to throw a party, and just… throw a party! Create your own occasion, because every single day is worth celebrating. It can be as simple as a hunker-down-at-home-during-a-snowstorm party, a movie night for two—or a total blowout cocktail party with a bartender, bubbles, and confetti.

Over the fifteen years my husband, Neil, and I have been together, we’ve thrown literally thousands—okay, probably hundreds—of parties of every kind, from brunches and picnic lunches to all-out black-tie bashes. We don’t hold back!

So how do I do it? Well, a successful party is much more about the sum of its parts than it is about just one detail. I’ve been acting since I was a child, and I have realized that while an actor’s performance is important, it is lost if the scene itself isn’t fully realized. Sure, I can assume a new identity with a uniquely delivered line, or captivate a crowd with a rousing musical number, but that tells only half the story—the rest is told through ambience, wardrobe, lighting, music, props, and, of course, the set. A dynamite dinner party is no different.

You can serve delicious, bite-size morsels and mix the perfect cocktail, but if you haven’t set up your room to allow for space and flow, how will your guests mingle? If the music is too loud, how will they talk? If the time you choose to throw your party doesn’t make sense—I’m thinking a kid’s birthday party too late in the evening during the witching hour!—people might feel uncomfortable and not have a good time. Just as with acting, if you’re prepared and have approached the party with thoughtfulness and care, if you’ve put the right elements in place and invested in making the occasion special, you can open that front door feeling confident that a great gathering is under way.

Dinner is a meal, but a dinner party has the opportunity to be an event.

I DECIDED TO ORGANIZE THIS BOOK by season, with quintessential holiday-specific parties as well as “anytime” gatherings, because that’s how we organize our lives—from big event to small, based on our schedules and also what produce is the freshest. My hope is that the ideas, advice, photos, and encouragement on the following pages will fill your inspiration tank until it’s brimming with ideas, and also give you practical strategies for making any party seem as effortless as it is exciting. And let’s be real—no one wants to see a stressed-out host, either before or during a party. A party should be fun for everyone… including you!

Dinner is a meal, but a dinner party has the opportunity to be an event.

I’ll also share recipes that I’ve created for many a memorable occasion. Some are family classics that I’ve given a twist, while others are from my years of cooking, both pre- and post-kids, for clients, teachers, parents, and friends. After Neil and I had our kids, Harper and Gideon, we didn’t stop entertaining. We simply reconfigured how we entertain. Sometimes that means parties that the whole family can enjoy (and you’ll find several of them throughout Life Is a Party), and sometimes it means adults-only parties (and yes, you really do need to be explicit on those invites!).

Oh, and speaking of invites—one of the most exciting things I’ve learned is that once you send the invitation, congratulations—you’ve already won! The good-time gathering gears are officially set in motion. People tend to love a party, and arrive primed to celebrate, dine, dance, and savor the few hours of bliss you’re offering them. They don’t care so much about the perfect placement of the chives or whether the napkin is folded with exact precision; they’ve come to connect, to indulge, to enjoy—and you’ve made that possible. It’s a good feeling.

So enjoy the hard-earned wisdom and instruction on the pages of this book. You can follow every suggestion step-by-step, from start to finish, or you can pick and choose different elements and ideas to incorporate into any celebration. It’s entirely up to you. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: If you get stressed in the process of planning, don’t worry. Just take a deep breath (and perhaps a sip of wine!) and remember that it’s allllll good. Who you’ve brought to the table counts as much as what you put on it.

Welcome to the party! Now turn the page, and let’s have some fun!



Try to avoid plastic—real plates, flatware, and napkins make people feel more special… and are better for the environment (if it’s a kid-centric party, then this rule can be bent—or opt for those snazzy and eco-friendly bamboo plates and utensils). If you are using real linens, make sure you iron your napkins and tablecloths. I once helped Sharon Stone with a party in Hollywood. She insisted on serving KFC on fancy china. It looked great, and no one had any idea. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of washing dishes, ask your guests to chip in, consider hiring some help (even a teen who wants to earn a few bucks!), or rent dishes and glassware, which can be returned dirty (hallelujah!).


The more you can plan and do ahead of time, the more you’ll be able to enjoy your own party. Make a list of everything from shopping to an hour-by-hour party-prep countdown. Set up your table the night before: Lay the tablecloth and arrange the empty serving pieces exactly where you want them to go. Use sticky notes to designate which dishes will be going in which vessels. I even like to pick out what I’m wearing the night before! The less you have to do the day of, the better.


Listen to playlists while prepping for your party; this gets you in a festive mood and also allows you to make any last-minute additions to your music! Leave yourself Post-its around the kitchen, if that helps. The night before, while you are setting the table, do a dry run. Make sure the lighting is right. And the more candles, the better. I love a moody room—plus, everyone looks ten years younger!


If you’re feeling overwhelmed (don’t worry, I do, too!), take advantage of the best shops in your neighborhood and treat them like caterers to fill any hole in your menu and impress your guests. And don’t be afraid to take advantage of technology to make your life easier; order from online stores like Goldbelly for specialty or hard-to-find foods and Amazon, Instacart, or FreshDirect for pantry staples. This frees you up to hit the best market in town for star ingredients like produce, herbs, or that special cut of meat.


Never, ever run out of ice! It’s essential for mixing drinks, keeping beverages cool—even for many cooking tasks. Have bags of ice delivered the day of the party. Or, if you have the room, start filling, freezing, and emptying ice into zip-top bags a few days before the party. If you don’t have room for multiple bags of ice in your freezer, keep them in the bathtub, or even the washing machine. A good rule is one pound (or about 2 ½ cups) of ice per guest.


You should always offer your guest a drink upon arrival; people feel more comfortable with something in their hand. Also, set some food out right when people get there—we’re not the kind of household where people stare longingly at an empty table, waiting for the first tastes to come out of the kitchen. However, make those first bites small: nuts, olives, and bar mix are all perfect. If you are serving appetizers, make sure they are one-bite snacks. People are coming to eat as the main event, so give them what they came for!


Make sure to ask your guests if they have any food allergies or if there are any foods they strongly dislike. It’s always nice to make people who can’t eat everything feel special; it’s hard enough having a nut allergy and never being able to eat peanut butter.


It’s better to have extra food than to run out—there’s nothing worse than being at a party and seeing the sad bottom of empty platters and drink pitchers. So make a little extra! Not only will your guests feel spoiled, but it will give you piece of mind before, during, and after your party. You can always send friends home with leftovers in plastic containers or Chinese takeout boxes. Also, make sure your bathroom is stocked with hand towels and toilet paper, and light a nice seasonal candle.


Have post-dinner entertainment in the form of a piano-playing friend, a spirited game, or a movie screening—something to shift the mood. The party doesn’t have to stop just because the dessert has been served.


I always like to send people home with something. It doesn’t have to be overly elaborate or complicated, just a token that conveys, “Thank you for coming!”: a signature holiday cookie wrapped in cellophane, or a bag of granola in a paper bag hand-inscribed with the recipe. You could also go with a little craft project you (or you and your kids) have made, either before or at the party itself.


Pooling resources with a trusted party partner has a ton of advantages. Not only can you divide and conquer—which saves you time and money—but it brings new ideas, recipes, and energy to the process.


Kids can get a little stir-crazy in the days and hours before a big gathering, so have them do things like polishing silver, folding napkins, and picking out their party outfits so they feel engaged in the process. My mom made my sister and me her personal assistants when getting ready for her cocktail parties. I might have complained in the past, but I am thankful for it now. She not only nurtured a strong work ethic in me, but now I have all these great skills for throwing a party.


Spend a few minutes in advance thinking about what people have in common, both on the surface and beyond the expected. Who grew up in the Midwest? Who is really passionate about a hobby? A scientist with an art dealer? Yes—the more eclectic and interesting, the better! My favorite number for an intimate dinner is eight. It allows for a few single conversations, or the whole group can get in on one juicy topic.


There is an art to seating people, and it’s not always the obvious choice that yields the most sparkling dinner-party conversations. I always feel that sitting next to someone I know nothing about is fun. My friend Lizzie Tisch (the consummate party hostess) says, “If they sleep together, don’t sit them together.” Sit the big personalities in the middle of the table; they will help the flow of the conversation. As you set the table, use place cards for the guest seating chart. I like to put the name on the front and the back, in case people don’t know each other.


Trust me, you can live without your cell phone for an hour or so. We have a big rule at our house: no electronics at the table. There is also a fun game you can play: Have all your guests stack their cell phones in the middle of the table, and the first person to grab for their device has to do all the dishes—or pay the check the next time you go out to dinner.

The kids love helping me in the kitchen, especially when making dessert.



DIY Soda Bar

Greek Frittata with Ramps and Chickpeas

Fava Bean and English Pea Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Pecorino

Rhubarb-Ginger Crumb Muffins

Cumin-Roasted Carrots with Lemony Yogurt and Cilantro

Roast Chicken

Spring has sprung! Reconnect with your roots by gathering family and friends, young and old, for a late-morning or early afternoon outdoor gardening party, complete with a fresh and exciting buffet of spring explosion that is sure to awaken your appetite. Since it’s still early spring, the sun shouldn’t be too intense and there won’t be a lot of bugs to keep at bay, perfect for setting up the food and enjoying it outside. I purposefully selected dishes that can be set out and left at room temperature; nothing needs to be served hot, and the only item you need to remember to keep cold is the drinks (and a cute ice bucket gets that job done!).


Ask your guests to bring one or some of the following: cut or potted spring flowers, birdseed, pinecones for making bird feeders, or seed packs of local wild-flowers for planting a butterfly garden.


If young ones are coming, keep them occupied by making sure there are plenty of crafts and activities ready to begin. Grown-up guests can help set up the soda bar, organize all the gardening tools, dress the salad, and get the pinecone bird-feeder craft organized.


If you plan to get dirty, put on overalls, old jeans, boots, and gloves for digging (and have a few spare pieces ready for friends who decide to dig in at the spur of the moment). If messy work and you don’t mix, then this is the perfect opportunity to break out your favorite flowery sundress or a seersucker jacket.


Make your table look like a garden! Use sanded tree stumps or thick segments of logs as trivets or risers. You can also use bricks and gardening crates as stands for elevating food.


Potted spring plants like paper lilies, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are pretty, as are spring greens like ferns, potted fresh herbs, and wheatgrass. Feel free to make arrangements in old watering cans.



Create a DIY flowerpot–painting station with terra-cotta pots, brushes, and paints (supply smocks or toss-away thrift-shop button-down shirts for guests).


Use a giant galvanized steel gardening bucket or a trough for chilling beverages. Stock up on multiple bottles of soda water, or a home seltzer maker for the DIY Soda Bar (here), with syrups stored in plastic squeeze bottles.


Weed, dig, and sow seeds in the garden; paint terra-cotta pots and fill them with dirt and plant seeds (these are a take-home gift that will remind your guests of your party for weeks—and potentially months—to come).


Packages of seeds and pinecones; gardening starter kits (pair of gloves, shovel, watering can); fresh-cut flowers.


Set up the party and food outside, but in case of rain (or the freak spring snowstorm!), make sure you have a dedicated indoor spot (yes, that means cleared, cleaned, and ready for action) to bring all the food, drinks, and dishes, just in case.

Three Days Before: Make and freeze the muffins; make the soda syrups.

Two Days Before: Prep the fava beans and peas; make the dressing and lemony yogurt sauce.

One Day Before: Chop herbs; prep the frittata.



Tie string around the top of a pinecone, then coat it with nut butter or honey, followed by seeds and nuts (think sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, chopped peanuts, and sesame seeds). Don’t be afraid to push the seeds into the center! Hang the pinecone outside and watch the birds go to town.


Watch The Secret Garden or set up a croquet course. Lay out a variety of flowers and have guests guess which variety is which; whoever identifies the highest number takes home the flowers in a vase. Provide roll-out sugar cookie dough and have the kids (and adults) decorate their cookies with floral motifs.

Make simple terrariums. Provide mason jars or terrarium glass containers and a variety of sands, succulent plants, stones, and miniature sprites, fairies, and toadstools so people can make their own terrariums.

Set up a rock-painting station for the kids. Encourage them to create their own theme that they can then incorporate into their own gardens.


On Sale
Apr 16, 2019
Page Count
304 pages

David Burtka

About the Author

David Burtka is an award-winning and sought-after host, chef, caterer, and actor. He has appeared on Broadway and in numerous television programs. David studied at The Cordon Bleu culinary school and interned at the acclaimed restaurant Babbo. He has also worked with Cat Cora, Thomas Keller, and Ina Garten. His Food Network special, Life’s A Party with David Burtka, aired in 2016 and was awarded a Telly Award and 1st Prize at the New York Film and TV Awards.
David lives in New York with his husband, Neil Patrick Harris, and their twin children, Gideon and Harper.

Learn more about this author