Today on Alphabet City: Susan’s birthday conjures up an unexpected famous face. Guest star: Graham Norton
Birthdays on Alphabet City are always “very special episodes.” My 40th birthday last year was shot on-location in Sydney. Juan Pablo’s always involves some over-the-top food segment featuring a star chef. And Susan’s typically lasts all month with both heavy amounts of travel and food. But last night, we celebrated Susan’s 35th birthday a little differently with a 5-course meal prepared by Chef Juan Pablo (full menu provided below) in our Washington Heights brownstone. I was reminded that the last time we threw a party in our home for Susan—exactly five years ago for her 30th birthday—a celebrity talk-show presenter mistakenly appeared.
Back when I first became a trained publicist, instead of traditional invites for Christmas and birthday parties, I sent out Press Alerts—an insider joke for people working in the entertainment industry—inviting people to come to a cast party on the set (my apartment)—encouraging their “publicists” to submit names of clients who might want to be invited. For Susan’s 30th birthday party at my apartment, I announced on the press alert that the event was happening at a new “underground East Village club.” But anyone who knew me well, and had been to the party many times, recognized the address as my apartment.
The night of the party, I opened the door to Marc, a sweetly gullible TV-producer friend of mine who had taken the Press Alert seriously.
“Um, hi, so what is this place? It’s so underground that it looks like a real apartment. I guess normal is the new cool,” he said.
He was trying desperately to look hip and in-the-know and not a bit surprised by the glaringly bright kitchen lights and wafts of garlicky spaghetti sauce. He twitched nervously and motioned to his friends standing nearby.
“These are my friends Kathryn and Graham.”
He had brought along the local TV entertainment reporter who thought she might score a scoop, and British chat-show host Graham Norton. Graham thought he was being escorted to the latest invite-only club—one that was on the cutting-edge of chic tucked away in a tenement building with no sign and no velvet rope. I smiled at my little ruse.
“Welcome to the set of Alphabet City, the sitcom of my life.”
After the initial shock wore off, Graham grabbed three plastic cups filled with wine, a plate of meatballs, and sat all night on the sofa talking to my dog Winnie’s groomer Evelyn and dog-walker-au-pair Kasia.
“Young man, that was the most authentic New York City evening I have ever had,” he hugged me on the way out. “I do hope I can be a guest star on future episodes.”
Graham’s surprise appearance boosted the Alphabet City ratings as well as the attendance at future parties—friends never knew who might show up.
Five years later, we didn’t need a talk-show host to boost our ratings or celebration of Susan’s 35th birthday. Instead, Alphabet City‘s own celebrity Chef Juan Pablo prepared a 5-course meal that included a Thomas Keller French Laundry recipe for cheese gougéres, a salmon and caviar terrine, seared sweet scallops in beurre blanc sauce, gnocchi with butternut squash and mushroom reduction (also a Keller receipe), and a Tom Colicchio recipe for slow braised “fresh bacon” or “pork belly.” I’d never seen a pork belly fresh from the butcher—seeing the little nipples is a little much, but it sure tasted amazing! Later, my own Kitchen Knightmare pastry talents were on display with a Bon Appetit recipe for Caramelized Pumpkin Flan and a Whole Foods recipe for Pumpkin Bread Pudding to which I added chocolate chips.