Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka are maestros of multiple domains individually but put them together and it begs the question: what can’t these two do?
Harris is an actor, comedian, singer and, yes, a magician. Meanwhile, Burtka is an actor and professional chef. One of Harris’ many television projects, the hit Netflix show “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” streams its final season on Jan. 1. For Burtka, his cookbook “Life Is a Party: Deliciously Doable Recipes to Make Every Day a Celebration” becomes available April 16. The couple juggles all of these career endeavors while parenting their 8-year-old twins, Harper Grace Burtka-Harris and Gideon Scott Burtka-Harris, and still always seem ready to host the next party.
Harris and Burtka showed no signs of slowing down as they breezed into D.C. to celebrate Capital One’s new dining-and-entertainment Savor Rewards credit card, of which the couple are proud brand ambassadors. The dinner event, co-sponsored with restaurant and hospitality company Resy, took place at A Rake’s Progress in Adams Morgan’s swanky Line Hotel. Harris and Burtka aren’t shy about their love for good drinks and food making the Capital One Savor card a suitable marketing fit.
The event began with a cocktail hour where guests sipped crafted cocktails like Burtka’s special recipe for Spiced Cranberry Champagne Punch. Later in the evening, Burtka and Harris welcomed guests before everyone tucked into succulent slow-cooked beef short ribs, butterpat roasted trout, cheddar scalloped potatoes and country ham fried rice, to name a few of the savory dishes.
Burtka and Harris talked to the Blade about their favorite holiday drinks and treats, how to navigate tense dinner table conversations and fond memories of their first Christmas together.
WASHINGTON BLADE: You’ve become known for your family photos with your kids. What’s your secret for that perfect holiday photo?
DAVID BURTKA: Tasers.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Yeah, it slows them down. I think with iPhone cameras being so effective we can pretty much take pictures of most everything. Before, you had to say “Stop,” get out a camera, take a photo, download it. Now, the quality of the camera is so good that we take pictures of our hotel room, our dinner, what we’re wearing. So the idea of taking pictures is sort of commonplace. If anything, the kids now at 8 years old are savvy enough to be playing us like fiddles with photography. So they’ll say, “You can take this picture but it can’t go on Instagram.”
BURTKA: It’s interesting, we never intended to be known for our family photos. We just really love showing and sharing with the world. Also, we have a strange world that we live in. There’s the paparazzi and I think that if you take the price off their heads and you sort of control the photo and are able to release what you want to release they’re not going to be hounding us as much.
HARRIS: That happened more in L.A. If you didn’t have any images of your newborn kids out there, then they would ask photographers to follow you around so they could be the people to have that photo. So, if we just posted our own photos the need for that lessens because we were providing photos, not to news organizations, but just to anyone who was interested in it. At the same time when you look at Instagram a vast majority of parents post pictures of their children because the kids are stupid adorable. So I don’t think we’re doing anything unusual, we just have to make sure that they’re well-shot pictures. I try to be discerning with our imagery.
BLADE: What’s your favorite Christmas present you’ve given each other?
BURTKA: I have two. They’re both art. The first are these really great portraits that he had of the kids done by Jill Greenberg. Those were amazing. Those made me cry.
HARRIS: He didn’t know I was doing it. I went and took the kids and didn’t tell him and did the photoshoot.
BURTKA: There was another piece of art that he had done that was flip art. So it was like one of those old-timey movies where the screens flip. But it was a story of Neil being a magician and coming into frame and the kids are sitting there. They were really small like 2 years old. And he takes a sheet and covers them up and uncovers them and they’re gone.
HARRIS: I got two empty chairs and I cover the empty chairs and then the kids are there and then we bow and they go back, reset.
BURTKA: It was creative and so beautiful.
HARRIS: We collect contemporary art so that’s an easy one to do for David. And by easy I mean expensive. For me, I like experiential things. It’s not just Christmas, it’s pretty much all year long. I’m constantly seeing things that I want to buy. This new book came out, I’d love to have this new shaker for my bar, I’m always doing that. So it’s the experiences. David got me once two half-day classes with Bobby Flay.
BURTKA: That was your birthday.
HARRIS: …where I got to go to his house and he taught me how to barbecue. That was really special to get to see that and do that live. That’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime situation. I love those.
BLADE: During the holidays, families get together and they might have different political opinions. What’s your advice for navigating difficult holiday table talk?
BURTKA: Just kidding.
HARRIS: I think to make the meal a bit of a game. There’s something called Table Topics that are these cubes and inside of them are these cards and each card has a question. “If you were on a desert island and you could only bring two books what would you bring?” Or “What do you think is the most influential thing that’s happened in your life?” And we’ll usually at a formal meal put one of those cards under everyone’s plate or mix it with the napkin so that in the conversation, if there’s a lull or it gets contentious you can say, “Oh well, hey, I have a question. What was your favorite comic book hero growing up?” and then it keeps things kind of buoyant and quasi-frivolous.
BLADE: David, when the holidays come up do you let Neil take the lead so you can relax or do you like to handle it as the expert?
BURTKA: Because I’m a trained chef it just comes easy for me. I like to do it and I love being in the kitchen. If I had my druthers, I’d be there right now just cooking. Neil tends bar. That was a Christmas present I got you (Harris). I got you five, three-hour lessons with a bartender so he learned every single spirit. He tends to do the bar. I tend to do the food. I’ll have him help me out and give him tasks. He’s good at sous chefing and decorating pastries and things like that. Really good at rolling pasta.
HARRIS: I’m bad with timing and getting everything out at the same time. So if he tasked me with “Make this thing look a certain way,” I can bang that out like a robot person. But David is the mastermind. He’s the nucleus. I’m the electrons. I put the N in electron.
BLADE: Neil, what’s your signature holiday cocktail? And David, Christmas dinner isn’t complete for you unless you have what item on the table?
HARRIS: I don’t have a singular signature cocktail for the holidays. It’s always fun because you get to experiment with richer, deeper flavor palates. You get to deal with cranberry, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Things that you don’t get in the summer, spring and the fall. So I tend to angle toward punches because punch bowls are always fun and it looks great and everyone can serve themselves. And it’s historical. So I’ll usually experiment and come up with a new punch for a party because then you don’t have to stand there behind the bar and ask people what they want. People get to be self-sufficient. That said, I do like trying new tastes and flavors. And if I may swing it back to the Savor card, there’s value in going out and trying new things at restaurants because you save money when you do that with the Savor card not just on food but on beverages. So if you were into the hooch the Savor card is your friend.
BURTKA: For me, I think the one complete thing is, for the last probably 10 years, I’ve made this cookie. This really great chocolate, peppermint cookie. It’s just been a staple.
HARRIS: They’re so good.
BURTKA: Literally, they’re like crack cocaine to people. My kids are crazy for them. It’s like a doughy, fudgey cookie but inside has crushed peppermint candies.
HARRIS: They’re pretty flat. They don’t rise very much, maybe because of the crushed peppermint candy. I’m not sure what the science is. But they wind up being big and flat and relatively chewy cookies. The kids get to bang the peppermint.
BURTKA: We tend to do an old English Christmas a lot of years. Like standing rib roasts, popovers or a goose, that’s big. But we’re not doing that this year. We’re doing a fondue thing with the kids this year. That’ll be fun.
HARRIS: I hope it doesn’t turn into a fon-don’t.
BLADE: What was your first Christmas like together?
HARRIS: We were in Michigan. His family is so hilarious because they have a lot of Christmas traditions. They’re 100 percent Polish. So there was a meal, there was lots of appetizery things. There was chicken, kapustas, fried mozzarella. Lots of gift exchanges. His dad has this wonderful thing that he does, and still does every year, where instead of giving everyone individual gifts he wraps a gift for every person. His own white elephant gift exchange. So when it’s your turn to do your gift, everyone gets their gift but you go one at a time and pick a gift and then the next person goes and they can steal your gift and pick their own gift. There are lotto tickets and cash money and frozen foods and all kinds of weird things that might be unique to you. Reese’s peanut butter cups for me. That’s when I got to know your (Burtka’s) family and that was very, very exciting. They welcomed me. I believe I won $75 in the lotto. It’s a win-win. I got the guy and the money.