ENTERTAINING : California Parties--Past and Future : The Haute Hostess : Every night’s a party at Barbara Lazaroff’s restaurants--Spago, Eureka, Chinois on Main. But when Lazaroff goes home she really has a ball.

<i> Rochlin is a contributing editor to Los Angeles Times Magazine and a commentator on National Public Radio. </i>

The first party that I really, really remember was the 25th birthday party that I gave for myself. I took a column from Variety to a typesetter who made invitations that read, “Unemployed Actress Throws Surprise Quarter-of-a-Century Birthday Bash for Herself.” Then, I cooked for a week. Lasagna. Things like that, because some of it had to be frozen. Two hundred people came. You know, my most intimate friends. Shortly after that, I met Wolf (husband Wolfgang Puck). Now, it’s great. I have a built-in chef, the best catering company in town.

I think my kids’ parties are the most legendary. I think I have a great capacity for throwing kids’ parties because I have a real childlike mentality. I think I dress like a kid. I love sparkly clothes. I love makeup.

I spent a year planning my son Cameron’s birthday party. From the moment he was born, I thought, “Goodness, I’m going to have to give him a great first birthday party . . . .” There are people in this town who have more money and more space and give more elaborate parties. But there has to be something on top of the spectacular, dramatic, different, unique. There has to be something haimishe about the party. Homey. It has to be folksy, friendly, warm, real. Otherwise, it could be anybody’s party.


See, it’s the details. The only thing that makes the difference between good and great in any aspect of your life, whether it be party-giving, sex, motherhood or your career, is the details. Two months before the party, I had this company make topiaries--each one was a different ivy animal and all of them had cowboy hats on. Then, there were big topiaries placed all over the garden.

I had an artist friend named Catrinka hand paint 60 T-shirts to read, “You’re Invited to Cameron’s Wild Cow Birthday Party.” And they showed these cows frolicking in party hats on top of all these presents and cakes and things.

For the kids, we had the pony rides, a cowboy clown singing music. And I have 28 animals--six cats, parrots, llamas. So there were the animals to play with. Balloons everywhere. And when the kids arrived, most of them were wearing their Cameron T-shirts, so everybody was dressed the same. Nobody had to worry about what the children were wearing. There was a sense of equality.

The food was really interesting because there was adult food . . . and there was kid food. I think it’s stupid to feed children things they don’t like to eat. The adults ate sausages from Eureka, barbecued chicken, steak. And the kids had hamburgers. Lots of ice cream. Maida Heatter flew in from Florida and brought seven huge suitcases of cookies she had made and wrapped herself. She put them in her luggage and not one broke.

And on the way out, each kid got a cow box, a cardboard milk crate filled with prizes. Plastic cows. Pencils that had cow heads on them. Cowboys that wound up and moved across the table. Milk Duds. I had people calling me afterwards saying that their kids never had so much fun at a party.

Sometimes people said, “Barbara . . . it’s kind of elaborate and very involved. Don’t you ever just flip out?” Sure. But I figured my son’s first birthday is only going to happen once.

I’ve had Christmas Eve parties for the last few years. Dinner parties at home. Completely the antithesis of the kid’s party where everyone is jumping in and out of the pool. It’s a totally different feeling. More elegant.

For the Christmas Eve party, it’s the same as if I’m creating a restaurant. I spend two weeks decorating the tree.

I pay attention to everything. The food, the ambience, the help, the whole spirit of the event. The music is going. I put The Smell of Christmas--a packaged mixture of cinnamon and herbs--everywhere. The candles are burning everywhere. All the crystal is out. The smell of the food is coming out of the kitchen. Wolfgang cooks. And mind you, he doesn’t get to sit down until the end of the meal. It’s very . . . elegant.

When I throw a party, I start with a concept. And because I’m very visual, I tend to start with what it’s going to look like--the decorations and all that. And then, basically, I think about what I want the food to be like, and then I go to my famous caterer and I tell him what I’d like. And, frankly, sometimes he fights back. He’ll say, “I don’t want to cook at the grill all day . . .” And I understand. He works hard all the time. But I usually win.

Creating a good party is a spiritual thing to me. I think to give a wonderful party for the friends you love and appreciate is a most important thing. When I invite people to my house, I don’t want anything from them--and I hope they don’t want anything from me, except friendship.

I want people to come to my home and know that I’m there for them. I check. I go around. I can see when someone’s not having fun. You have to take care of your guests. Wolf always says to me, “You never have much fun at your parties.”

What gives me pleasure is having someone call me up and say, “That was a really wonderful party. The place looked fabulous. The kids had such a great time.” Then I look at all the photographs I took--I have 120 photo albums of pictures I have taken--and think about the memories. That feels good.

My whole life is about providing service. I mean, at the restaurants I walk around all night saying to people, “Hi, how’s your dinner? How’s your family? How’s everything?” And so when I go out into the world, that kind of thing just falls out of my mouth. I go to other people’s parties and I’m always going around asking, “How’s everything?”

It’s my way of making people happy. I also think it’s fun. Also, in a way, it’s my way of being a little girl all over again. I get to perform. I get to feed. I get to decorate. What more could a person ask for?