Olympic gold medalist. World and U.S. champion. Inductee into the World and U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fames. Emmy winner. And … conqueror of the culinary arts?
“I was the first of my friends to own a house,” Brian Boitano said. “So when I was home – which back then wasn’t very often – but when I was home, it was a ritual that everyone would come over and gather in my kitchen and each person handled something – an appetizer, the entrée, the dessert. And that’s how I started creating recipes and I kept notes of my favorite ones.”
Many of his favorite creations are included in his recently-released cookbook, “What Would Brian Boitano Make?: Fresh and Fun Recipes to Share with Family and Friends.” Fans of skating and fans of food will be hugely satisfied that Boitano has at least partially turned his attention from his trademark Tano Lutz to all things mouth-watering.
Tapas, cocktails, soups, sandwiches, salads, pasta, meats, poultry, seafood, sides and sweets, Boitano concocts them all.
“It’s easy enough that a novice cook can take it on,” said Boitano, “but seasoned cooks can also get a new twist and find it interesting.”
Boitano should know – he started tinkering in the kitchen in his mid-20s and, by 2009, found himself starring in his own cooking show, What Would Brian Boitano Make? now on the Cooking Channel.
“A chef is someone who went to school,” said Boitano, who worked on the book for a year. “I am a self-taught home cook.”
In Boitano’s case, the term “home cook” is literal. Boitano’s show, but also his passion, is to host fun get-togethers at his house in San Francisco with menus that both wow the taste buds and please the palette, an achievement that is memorably illustrated in the cookbook with a picture of Dick Button licking his plate after a serving of White Bean, Caramelized Onion and Artichoke Bruschetta.
“That is totally him,” said Boitano of Button, who kept sneaking into the kitchen to verify that Boitano himself was actually cooking his culinary delights. “He’s hilarious. He’s goofy.”
Beyond the array of yummies such as Paella Sliders and Bourbon Bacon Apple Tarts, the book is chock full of stories and memories that give a great peek into Boitano, the at-home person behind the public persona.
“I had no idea the book was going to turn into that,” said Boitano, laughing. “I thought it was just going to be stories from the TV show, but I’ve been traveling the world since I was 14 and it sort of just evolved into that. As I was going through the recipes, I was reminded of the things I ate in Vienna, in France, and in Germany, where I had fondue the first time, and on and on. It brought up a lot of memories for me.”
The walk down memory lane in the pages of the book makes it clear that the recipes evoke specific recollections for Boitano, from his boyhood through his skating career.
“My parents were interested in so much and they were always taking us to Fisherman’s Wharf,” said Boitano, referring to the pier in San Francisco, where he recalls in his book that, as a young boy, he first realized that food can actually come directly from the ocean. “I had such a great upbringing, rich in so many ways. I was able to see and experience so much.”
Boitano’s Italian heritage and large family gatherings were a big reason for food playing such a key role in his life, like when it comes to his nana’s recipe for stuffed raviolis that was never written down and, sadly, died with her.
“I keep asking my sister and she keeps saying, ‘I told you, I don’t have the recipe,’” Boitano said. “I was so young, I just remember how huge they were and that she used full-sized pine nuts, but that’s it. I’d love to figure it out one day.”
While nana’s recipe is still a work in progress, what Boitano has figured out is some tips for efficiency in the kitchen, like his “Sauce, Salsa and Spread Plan” that highlights recipes for such creations as Plum Salsa, Red Chimichurri Sauce and Pea-and-Basil Pesto, among others.
“I had made a red pepper relish for an hors d’oeuvres and I had a lot left over, so then I tried it on fish and it was delicious and then I spread it on turkey sandwiches and it was great!” Boitano said. “That’s how I came across the idea of making a salsa or a sauce or a spread and keeping it for a week in the refrigerator and using it in a variety of ways. It’s such a key time-saver and it’s so simple.”
Time saving is a theme that pops up throughout the book and is part of what can make an evening a success, according to Boitano.
“If you’re planning an elegant, sit-down dinner party, you should have as much prepared ahead of time as possible,” Boitano said. “I also have all of the ingredients lined up so it’s quick and easy and I don’t have to be buried in a recipe and I can keep talking to the guests the whole time.”
However, Boitano is also a fan of making the most out of a popular gathering room of the house when having friends over.
“Entertaining is so much more casual now so usually I just put out a bunch of appetizers in the kitchen and make cocktails and ask the guests to help so everyone’s involved and having fun,” Boitano said. “I finally realized, ‘Everybody always ends up in the kitchen anyway. I’ll just entertain there!’ My friends love it.”
Although any skater out there is certainly well-acquainted with the notion that perfection is a hard thing to come by all of the time.
“Here’s a disastrous story,” Boitano said. “For the TV show, I was doing a Cuban party for (ice dancer) Renee Roca. I was roasting pork outdoors and, because it was starting to get dark and we had to get filming finished, I had to pull the pig off the grill and it was not very well done. The director wanted to get reaction shots of how good it was and I was, like, ‘But it’s not good,’” he continued, laughing. “We just went to dessert really quickly.”
But, also as in skating, practice usually makes all things better and Boitano has received raves for his prowess in the kitchen.
“When I was on The Chew, I made a really easy dessert recipe,” Brian Boitano said of the fruit crostata he whipped up on the show that aired in May. “And (host) Mario Batali said, ‘It’s not often I learn something from an Olympic gold medalist, but this is genius.’ All I could think was, ‘Can I get that in writing?’ It was the best compliment ever.”
It’s obvious that a big part of Boitano’s enjoyment from cooking is his love of entertaining, which should come as no surprise to those fans of his skating career.
“There are a lot of parallels between skating and cooking,” Boitano said. “Both take creativity, lots of practice and both have so many layers.”
Even with a busy book tour, Boitano hasn’t hung up his skates. He still goes to the rink three days a week and is a regular at the gym.
“I knew I wanted to do something entirely different,” said Boitano of his branching out into making cooking a second career. “I’ve always done things different, even in skating. Skating is my passion and it will always be a huge part of my life, but I knew I had to totally branch off. For me it was a necessity. I had to do new things and explore.”
For more information about “What Would Brian Boitano Make?:Fresh and Fun Recipes for Sharing with Family and Friends,” visit his website at www.brianboitano.com or twitter (BrianBoitano) and Facebook (facebook.com/brianboitano).