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birthday picnic-beetroot dip

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.

birthday picnic-me & lovely amy

Lovely Amy and I relaxing after our hard days cooking with one of Zaha’s drawings in the background.

birthday picnic-arno arranging table

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.

birthday picnic-table

How the table with the mezze looked downstairs.

birthday picnic-food & zaha's work 2

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.

birthday picnic-drinks

The drinks station with bottles of Chateau Musar rosé cooling in the ice bucket.

birthday picnic-food & zaha's work

Another view of the mezze spread with the drinks table and Zaha’s drawing in the background.

birthday picnic-pomegranates

Some of Arno’s pretty decoration.

birthday picnic-erica with chateau musar rose

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!

birthday picnic-around the table

Around the big table.

birthday picnic-lamb

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.

birthday picnic-arno & christian serving the rice with the lamb

Christian (who works with Jerome at Mosimann’s) and Arno having already carved the whole lamb and sorting out the rice.

birthday picnic-zaha & joseph

Zaha heading the table with my brother to the right and Susie and her son Jackson more to the right.

birthday picnic-joseph with isabelle & me & zaha

A back view of me and Zaha talking to my brother and Isabelle, his wife.

birthday picnic-arabella & philippa

Philippa who’d been with me to Syria with Arabella, looking very chic as always.

birthday picnic-arno with fuchsia & carole

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.

birthday picnic-amy with hande & me & elias

Amy, Hande, me and Elias, my young Lebanese friend who I have known from when he was a baby!

birthday picnic-mary & elie

My sister Marie looking adoringly at her husband Elie!

birthday picnic-john & diana

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.

birthday picnic-mary's present

Holding Mary’s fabulous present from Sicily with Hilda and David in the background.

birthday picnic-me & mary with her wonderful present

With Mary and her fabulous present from Sicily made by Maria Grammatico.

birthday picnic-me & jenny

Me with Jenny (who gave me the most hilariously funereal present packed in a proper coffin!).

birthday picnic-zaha & isabelle

Zaha and Isabelle, my siter-in-law with my sister and brother partially covered.

birthday picnic-me & hande 1

Jane from the left talking to Amin, with Hande and me posing for the camera and Seth, Susie and Jackson, their son, in the background.

birthday picnic-mary & seth

My sister Marie with Seth.

birthday picnic-me & mohamed

Talking with Mohamed from al-Waha, perhaps about his lambs which were amazing.

birthday picnic-susan with alberto & isabelle

Susan with Alberto and Isabelle, my sister-in-law.

birthday picnic-susie & peregrine

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.

birthday picnic-me & elias

With Elias who I nannied when he was a young thing, and am still nannying now.

birthday picnic-zaha's stairs

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!

There is 6 comments on this post

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Happy Birthday and congratulations for the party, Anissa.
    The mezze looks incredible (and so do you!).

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    thanks danilo 🙂 it was incredible. u’d have loved it 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    how absolutely wonderful, anissa ! to celebrate with your friends and family, people from all different aspects of your life, together for you. love that the gentleman you were a nanny for was there too ! i can only imagine how delicious that spread was. looks incredible. hope you are well !! …and ready for wimbledon 😉 bisous

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    you are sweet kerrin. thank you. it was a fun party, and young elias came specially from paris to be nannied again. it was great fun and i am totally ready for wimbledon. our boy is on tomorrow at 3 pm or thereabouts. let’s hope he’s ready 🙂 love your bump by the way. v cute. xx

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Dear Anissa,

    I wanted to thank you again for allowing Jill to bring me over and join you and your friends for this lovely party. I had a wonderful time, and the pictures reflect the day as it truyly was: bright, delicious and lots of fun.

    Your website is also great – it brought back some lovely memories of Maroc and the desire to visit Lebanon one day!

    Bien cordialement,

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    you are welcome gabrielle and how sweet of you to leave a comment. am delighted to hear you like my site 🙂

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