Even the most diehard posters on Brian Boitano’s fan site seemed surprised to find out that, come August 23, their favorite ice man will heat up the kitchen in Food Network’s newest series, What Would Brian Boitano Make?
Which doesn’t surprise Boitano a bit.
“I don’t really share that side of me,” the 1988 Olympic gold medalist sighs. “Whenever I do TV shows and publicity, it’s always about the show that I’m in, who I am skating with, what I am doing; it never gets around to, ‘What do you do in your off time?'”
What Boitano does in his off time is entertain a colorful cast of beloved friends with skills developed to thumb his nose at an athlete’s rigorous diet. “As soon as I got done with the Olympics, I realized that there was food to eat out there other than baked potatoes and rice crackers, so I just engaged myself in learning more in the process of making things and it just escalated.”
To the point of taking his new passion to TV.
As for the show’s quirky title, it’s just part of the serendipitous, longtime marketing campaign that landed in Boitano’s lap courtesy of the musical number “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” from the 1999 feature-film offshoot of the cult television hit South Park, in which an animated Boitano is called upon to, among other things, fight grizzly bears and vanquish Kublai Khan. Not that he knew a thing about it until the film was already in theaters.
We caught up with Boitano as he caught a cab to the ice rink and talked food, friends and finding out he’s a Gen Y icon.
When and how did the idea for What Would Brian Boitano Make? begin to take shape?
Well, as far back as the Olympics, I talked about opening a restaurant, but I never got around to it. So now people say, “Well, where’s your restaurant?!” They think I have a restaurant. And I’m like, “I never opened a restaurant. I never got around to doing it because I didn’t dream I’d still be skating full time for 20 year after the Olympics. That was my No. 1 question — still is.
The entertainment and the cooking side of it came out of literally just loving to cook and entertain. I’ve always entertained.
Was the idea of doing a cooking show pitched to you — or is this your baby from the start?
Actually I approached the producer of the pilot (Cohesive Entertainment, the folks who brought you Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee) with a different idea and it involved cooking and skating together — and who knows, I am hoping one day that will happen.
But we met in New York and we had lunch together and after he met me, he said, “You know what? Why don’t we just drop the whole skating idea? I think you have a personality that could really carry the show, so lets do a pilot based on that concept.” And I’m like, fine by me! I’ve never been approached to drop skating — people always want to incorporate the skating — and I was so ready to do that.”
Your fans should be especially delighted since — in addition to being a stand-alone cooking show — it’s really a peek at your personal life, your personality, and your wild sense of humor.
The amazing thing about the show — and the reason that I really, really loved the idea and the concepts that we came up with — is that no one has seen my real personality. When I’m doing press or doing public things I’m serious, because I am talking about work, I’m talking about skating, I’m talking about serious things.
I’ve had younger skaters, when they meet me for the first time, they have this image of who I am going to be. And then they’re with me for a while, if I’m traveling with them or doing a show with them, and they’re like, “You’re really kooky! I didn’t think you were going to be that way!” And I’m like, “Well when it’s time to skate, I’m am really focused and serious. All of the other times? Kooky.”
A lot of my friends see that, but they say when I do interviews it doesn’t come through.
Speaking of your friends, you have a lot of really entertaining people in your life …
I never really realized it, but now when I go to the parking lot of the gym and I meet the guy who usually parks my car and he cooks Chinese food, I’m like, “Oh my God! It’s another quirky friend of mine. Everybody is turned into a character on a cooking show.”
It’s so interesting because when you actually take a moment to realize who is in your life, you go, “Wow, I have some really amazing, diverse, interesting friends.”
We’ve had so much footage of really good stuff that it was hard to keep it to a half-hour show. I want to do a thing of just of the outtakes and things we didn’t put on the show — maybe a website or something. I think that would be really interesting and fascinating.
Is that actually your home we see on the show?
It is, yeah!
It was really nice — and really flattering — because when they watched the first pilot episode, I went in the meeting afterward and (Food Network’s senior vice president of programming and production) Bob Tuschman said, “I have to say that when we see a pilot, we don’t, as a rule, watch the whole thing.” And he said, “We were glued to your pilot episode. We watched the whole thing in the meeting.”
And he said that one of the comments someone said to the producer was, “Oh my God, that is the most beautiful set! Where did you find that?” And the producer said, “That’s his house!”
That’s your wisteria waving in the window?
My wisteria in the window! I was very lucky.
Did they at least set you up with some new cookware?
I have pretty much everything that I needed. They did a Food Network Magazine photo shoot and they said, “Do we have to bring out all our people from New York?” and I’m like, “Noooooo, I have all the textiles … I have platters … I have glasses … I have plates. I entertain! So I have all that stuff.” And they used all my real stuff.
Including your party guests! How did you eventually settle on the events and friends for each episode?
Number one, I wanted to find funny, quirky people that I have a really good relationship with — and who would not freeze up on camera with me. And I also wanted a good storyline that went along with the whole thing — interesting events that I want to celebrate or surprise my friends with.
But I told all my friends that they are eventually going to be targets, so be prepared.
The funny thing is, the first four episodes, the people on them are so funny and so quirky that I’m like, “Alright, now you guys have to realize that not all of my friends are this quirky. They’re not all the handyman who doesn’t work … and [endearingly-accented Boitano pal/paella expert] Manuela in the kitchen. They’re not all going to be those people.
We’re also planning on having people reappear. We really want a revolving cast the public gets to know and gets to like and is really comprised of all my friends.
Does that include any famous faces from the skating circuit?
I asked Kristi Yamaguchi if she wanted to be in an episode and she said she sure does! She asked if she had to have any recipes and I said, “No, you just look pretty. I’ll handle the rest.”
Are you going to make her dance a little bit?
We’re going to have to dance a little bit.
I did want to incorporate some of my well-known friends, but [the producers] really wanted it to be who I always hang out with, too. Normal people, regular friends. And I really appreciated it. Because even though I do know all those well-known people, that’s not who I hang out with on a regular basis.
Can you give me a little more info on upcoming episodes and/or costars or is that a secret?
I’ll tell you the themes. One is the handyman who doesn’t work. He’s my French handyman … who doesn’t work. And another one is the roller derby girls. Wait until you see the dream sequence with that one! In one part, I am stirring some sauce and I’m like, “I wonder what it would be like to be in a bout with those girls … ” So you gotta see that.
And my other one is my friend Tony. We get together every couple weeks to cook and he’s talking about how he really wants to find a girlfriend, blah blah blah blah blah. So I get on the phone to all my friends, including Manuela — that’s where she reoccurs — and I ask them to send all the single women they know over for a party that night and I surprise Tony with a bachelorette party. He doesn’t know about it. I think the first words out of his mouth when they all came to the top of the stairs and said, “Hi Tony!” were “I think I am going to kill you.”
Speaking of dream sequences, I thinking it’s pretty awesome that being parodied on the most foul-mouthed, risque shows on television actually handed you a whole new way to brand yourself.
Kids who don’t even know my skating know that I’m on South Park! I had a kid come up to me just last week and was like, “Dude, you’re that guy on South Park!” And I said, “Yeah, I know.” And he said, “I didn’t know you ice skated!” And I’m like, “Well, where’s the disconnect?! I ice skated on South Park!”
They don’t even know that. Or care. They just know that I’m on South Park and that it’s cool that I’m on South Park.
You’ve said that you had to ask South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone for permission to use your own name in your marketing materials, but have you guys ever actually sat down and had the conversation about why they wondered what Brian Boitano would do in the first place?
I didn’t really think that I needed to ask permission. I wanted to. I mean, I didn’t want any conflict with them. You certainly don’t want them writing a new song!
But the only time that I’ve ever had any contact with them I talked to Matt, because they did a little book, an advice book, and they wanted me to write the forward. So the first time I talked to Matt on the phone, I was like, “Well, what do you want the forward to be? Do you want it to be, like, dirty? And he’s like, “Noooooo.” So I said, “Do you want it to be risqué? And he’s like, “Noooooooo.”
It was funny, because I was more ready to go there than he was.
You’re still really involved in the professional ice skating world. Has it been hard to balance the TV show with your skating enterprises, or is it all good right now?
It’s all good.
It is hard to juggle the skating with the food stuff, but it’s so nice to have another passion that’s equal to skating. How many times do people find that in their lives? Two things that they’re passionate about and really love to do?
I want to skate as long as I can, but right now the food thing is a real priority for me. It’s almost a different persona. It’s still the person that I’ve always been, but at some point I am going to have to stop skating anyway, so it’s nice to have both now. And I am really looking forward to pursuing the food thing in the future.