How Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka Do Breakfast
The actors lead fascinating culinary lives
A lot of actors claim to love cooking, but with Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, it’s really true. Burtka is actually a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, and adores making food with his family. I recently had the chance to chat with Harris and Burtka on the phone about their culinary lives. Read on for a peek into their family’s breakfast routines, on-set eating, and what it was like to shoot Burtka's upcoming cookbook at their home.
Extra Crispy: What did you have for breakfast today?
David Burtka: I had two pieces of rugbrød! It was a dark seeded rye with some butter and Maldon sea salt. And then Neil had one salted with butter and the other one with this homemade cherry jam I made.
Neil Patrick Harris: I have to say, that’s a relatively easy answer, because I ended up with the rugbrød, but then David proceeded to make avocado toast with two poached eggs for the kids.
DB: That was on sourdough bread, with a nice olive oil, Maldon sea salt, and two poached eggs.
Wow, those are lucky kids, that’s so much better than a toaster waffle.
NPH: That’s what I’m saying! I just spent the weekend with them and I cooked them oatmeal. And by cooking I mean I boiled water, and put it in an instant oatmeal packaged bowl.
DB: You’re also forgetting that they had homemade triple-berry muffins with streusel topping that I made.
NPH: When can I hang up the phone?
NPH: It’s a very unfair fight.
Did you make the muffins in advance?
DB: I made them yesterday, I made two different kinds. We have a really busy week, so I spent the weekend prepping and cooking. So I made the triple-berry muffins with streusel topping, and then I made a cranberry ginger muffin.
That sounds amazing! So, you have professional culinary experience, is that right?
DB: Yeah, I’m a trained chef.
So does that mean you’re usually the one making breakfast for the family in the morning?
DB: Yes, and I take pride in that!
If you like cooking, it’s a wonderful thing to do.
DB: It’s true, I really love cooking for my kids. It’s funny when I become the short-order cook, when they’re telling me they want two sunny-side up eggs, a side of sausage, and some cut-up melon—but then I do it for them, I’m such a pushover! Pancakes tend to be a special occasion, weekend thing. But now I actually have the pancake recipe written on our daughter's whiteboard in the kitchen, so she could just do it herself now. She’s a pro at pancakes.
NPH: I think the breakfast and brunch thing is such a skill set, because it’s all timing. I’m consistently impressed with my husband and his skills to throw so much together so quickly. We’ll have friends that will just want to swing by, and within an hour there will be scones, fresh fruit, bagels and toppings, and what’re those egg things you make David, quiches?
DB: Yeah, quiches. Well that’s the thing, this is a really good tip for people who like breakfast and brunch. I have this scone recipe, it’s so easy. You scoop them out, and then you freeze them unbaked. I have four different kinds of scones in my freezer right now, in case anyone wants to drop by for breakfast. Also, another trick is to make make quiches in advance. You just buy the frozen pie tins, you don’t have to make the crust, it’s not that big of a deal. Quiches are so easy as well, just make them, cool them down, wrap them in tin foil and pop them in the freezer. Same with muffins. And anything with nuts or fruit when it comes to baked goods, they freeze so well.
So is that the secret to having it all done, to just prep when you have a few hours and then shove it all in the freezer?
DB: Yeah! It depends on how big you want to go. But when it comes to getting things done on time, I can’t have three things in the oven at once, so I’ll do one in the oven, one of the stovetop, one on the grill. It’s about spacing out your stuff, and realizing like, I can blanche those beans and put olive oil and salt on, then leave those for 10 minutes, because they can sit while I can the other stuff together. It’s all about timing and practice. And segueing into my book, I have a book coming out in the spring, there’s a whole breakfast and brunch section—every chapter has a brunch in it. So you don’t have to do it alone, get together with your friends. This is a really good book for the modern potluck. Don’t feel like if you’re planning a party that you have to do it all by yourself. It’s a really good way to bring people together and share those memories. Everyone has that common bond of food, so why not cook and eat and share stories, and then with all of that get money back from your Capital One card. [The couple recently partnered with Capital One to launch the Savor Card.]
NPH: Bam, drop the mic.
That was very skilled! I can tell that you’ve had acting experience, because that was seamless.
So, can I ask you guys a little about your acting careers? I have to add I was a huge How I Met Your Motherfan! What are some of your go-to breakfasts on set?
NPH: Oh wow! Well on set, I tend to need to focus more on work and less on digestion. So tend to be kind of an oatmeal at the first part of my day-guy, maybe with some blueberries and a little bit of brown sugar and whole milk. But they make a good breakfast burrito usually on sets.
DB: That’s what I was going to say!
NPH: They usually make breakfasts on those giant catering trucks when you’re working, and you can pretty much ask for anything. So a breakfast burrito in that context can have eggs and cheese and salsa and bacon and hash browns and sour cream—and then you have to take a nap.
DB: I don’t tend to work as much as Neil, so when I go on location or something it’s a special occasion for me, so I usually go for the breakfast burrito, or something like and egg sandwich with bacon on a roll.
DB: But then I think why did I do that!
Is that a welcome break for you sometimes? You can order whatever you want, have your own short-order cook!
DB: Yeah! But I do really love cooking. Everyone always says, “Oh, I’m sorry you have to cook,” but I really enjoy it.
Well, I’d love to ask you a bit about the experience of working on your cookbook, what was that like for you?
DB: It was maddening, it was so crazy! It’s amazing how much work goes into it, I had no idea. Because you’re coming up with over 100 recipes, you write down all the recipes, test the recipes, retest the recipes, test them again, tweak them. And then on top of that for this book, it’s not only about the food, it’s all about the experience of the party, the entertaining, how to delegate, what people can bring, which flowers are in season, what the decorations are, what the playlist should be, what to wear, lighting, what activities to do, how to keep the party going! So it’s writing all of that stuff, and then you have to shoot it all. So it’s wild, because I shot it seasonally. I wanted everything to be really authentic, I have real cherry blossoms upstairs on our roof, and then there’s the fall foliage, and then I have all the great produce you get in the summer. It’s been a process, but it’s been loads of fun and i’ve had a blast, but man it’s a lot of work. You look at a cookbook and you go, oh this is great, but you don’t realize how much time and effort goes into something like that.
NPH: I will say, as David’s husband, I’m just so impressed with the fact that he took on so much. I know that other celebrities have made cookbooks, but in doing so have essentially just had a team of cooking people tell them what to write. But David for the past year has been actively doing all of it on his own, and I think when you see the finished product you’ll see how much care he took with everything, he’s really good at these things.
I’m so excited to hear that! As a food editor I definitely get a lot of celebrity cookbooks, and you’re always curious to know how much that person actually had to do with the book. It’s so wonderful to hear it was your full creation, I’m sure that’ll be reflected in the success of the book.
DB: I hope so! I’m such a control freak, I really had no other choice. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to give 175 percent—I’ll write it myself, make sure all the props are mine, help with shopping, and make sure everything looks good on film. On top of that, it’s a book about parties, and there are 16 parties within the book. And every chapter, we shot two parties, so I threw eight parties within the year as well. I had 50 people coming up to the roof! It was crazy, but fun!
NPH: It sounds like a lot, but what I think is exciting about the parties that he throws is his desire to make it an inclusive thing, to delegate to kids and friends, and make creating the party part of the party. It was a really fun time, and good year.