I always thought I would be dead by the time I was 35. Then I reached that age and thought that I wouldn’t make it past 50. As I approached my 50th year in perfect health, I decided that if I wasn’t going to be buried in a cemetery, I might just as well have a birthday picnic in it except that I never got round to organising it. It took another decade for me to make it happen, almost. It was going to be in Bunhill Fields where Blake, Defoe and Bunyan are buried. A perfect place for a foot in the grave party. I got the necessary permission (there is a garden right by the cemetery) and sent out the invitations. I also asked my lovely friend Amy, who is chef at Chez Panisse, if she would come and cook the picnic with me and she very kindly said yes. As the date approached, I obsessively checked the weather forecast but it was not looking good. So, Zaha, who I have been friends with more or less since I moved to London in 1973, suggested I move the picnic to her stunning gallery. An offer that I was very grateful for and of course accepted. Here are a few photos from what turned out to be a fabulous event, all taken by my very talented young intern, Sophie Minchilli.
Lovely Amy and I relaxing after our hard days cooking with one of Zaha’s drawings in the background.
Jerome, another lovely chef friend,was the unsung hero of the party. He was supposed to help me carve the whole lambs but ended up going to China to take part in a culinary competition. But he didn’t leave me in the lurch. Quite the opposite, he sent me the amazing Arno and his team who recreated the picnic feel in Zaha’s glamourous space.
How the table with the mezze looked downstairs.
We initially laid out the mezze upstairs to welcome everyone — we made the hommus in the foreground from scratch and next to it you see a corner of our bowl of kissir.
The drinks station with bottles of Chateau Musar rosé cooling in the ice bucket.
Another view of the mezze spread with the drinks table and Zaha’s drawing in the background.
Some of Arno’s pretty decoration.
Young Erica going round with a bottle of Chateau Musar; shame the front label is not showing but you can still make out the name on the back label. I have to say their rosé is exceptional!
Around the big table.
The lamb — I had asked Mohamed from Al-Waha who roasted them for me to make the rice with peas (cooked separately to keep the colour), fresh mint and toasted nuts. It was pretty spectacular.
Christian (who works with Jerome at Mosimann’s) and Arno having already carved the whole lamb and sorting out the rice.
Zaha heading the table with my brother to the right and Susie and her son Jackson more to the right.
A back view of me and Zaha talking to my brother and Isabelle, his wife.
Philippa who’d been with me to Syria with Arabella, looking very chic as always.
Arno talking to Fuchsia (who made me the most amazing little book of offal) and Carole who’d also been with me to Syria and who gives me the most amazing eggs from her different breed hens.
Amy, Hande, me and Elias, my young Lebanese friend who I have known from when he was a baby!
My sister Marie looking adoringly at her husband Elie!
John, my new best friend (together with his partner Nicole who sadly was not in London) with Diana who’d also been with me to Syria. So sad when I think of all those wonderful trips and the horror that is now taking place there.
Me with Jenny (who gave me the most hilariously funereal present packed in a proper coffin!).
Zaha and Isabelle, my siter-in-law with my sister and brother partially covered.
My sister Marie with Seth.
Talking with Mohamed from al-Waha, perhaps about his lambs which were amazing.
Susie with her father Peregrine who hired me for Sotheby’s when he was the vice chairman long ago. They are my English family and even though Patricia, Susie’s mother was there, I don’t sadly have a picture of her.
With Elias who I nannied when he was a young thing, and am still nannying now.
Zaha’s amazing stairs linking the two floors in her gallery. It was a great party if I may say so myself and for a change, I enjoyed it as much as my guests did. Thank you Zaha for giving us such a fabulous shelter. Thank you Amy for being such an amazing partner in the kitchen. Thank you Mohamed for the spectacular lambs. Thank you Jerome, Arno and the team for all your wonderful help. Thank you Sophie for the lovely photographs. And thank you to my family and friends for all the lovely presents!
Tagged : al-waha, amy dencler, arno rupert massdrop, birthday picnic, Bunhill Fields, daniel defoe, jerome henry, john bunyan, maria grammatico's sweets, mezze spread, whole lambs, William Blake, Zaha Hadid 6