You may know Brian Boitano because he was the gold medalist in men’s figure skating at the 1988 Olympics. Or you may know him because the show South Park wrote a funny song about him. But I bet you didn’t know that Brian Boitano is a truly awesome cook whose first cookbook, What Would Brian Boitano Make? came out May 7th from Lyons Press. (The title of the cookbook is a reference to that South Park song, “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”)
I was lucky enough to score a copy of the cookbook, which is full of easy, healthy recipes that will appeal to experienced home cooks and newbies alike. The recipes are casual but not unsophisticated; modern and trendy, but not in an overly “foodie” way. As I told Brian, I’m completely excited about making any and all of the great recipes in What Would Brian Boitano Make? (Heirloom Tomato, Cantaloupe and Feta Salad will be gracing my kitchen soon, that much I can tell you for sure). I spoke to Brian (who couldn’t have been any nicer or more charming) about his cookbook, how he develops recipes, eating to fuel a workout, and his obsession with “fall-apart meat.”
How did you get into cooking?
Well, I was always interested in recipes and food from a little boy. I wrote my first recipe when I was 12 years old and it was supposed to be in the cookbook but they vetoed it! But really, I was on such a restrictive diet when I was competing and training for the Olympics that I just didn’t branch out. I ate the same thing every single night and during that time I just kept thinking of what I was going to make, what I was going to eat, and even started developing food at that point. When I retired from amatuer skating when I was 24, I went into the kitchen right away and started developing recipes. I had a lot of friends who wanted to come over and make food, so whenever I was home, they’d all come over and we’d make different dishes and share them, eat and drink to all hours of the night. So I guess that was really the impetus for the whole cooking thing!
What’s your process of coming up with recipes?
I go to the store every day and see what’s fresh and what I want to play with. I’ll choose fresh ingredients and I’ll go “Oh I wonder what will happen if I poached fish in…tea?” and I keep a notebook. After I make the recipe, I write it down, so I have a whole notebook filled with lots of recipes. I’ve been doing that for years.
The funny thing is is I don’t take any measurements, so when it came time for the book, I was like “Ok, how much is a handful of parsley? A quarter of a cup? Half a cup?”
I just really love trying new things I’ve never tried before and I just see what works and what does’nt.
I have hardly any butter in my cookbook. I use very little fat, heart heathy fats. If I’m sauteing something, I add a chicken or a vegetable stock to add flavor instead of fat. You can accomplish flavor in so many different ways. Also, I think people don’t use herbs that much and I use a TON of herbs. Dill, tarragon…one of the things in the cookbook that I really like is that I help people to figure out how not to waste the herbs they buy or grow, too.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
I love braising meat! I love love love braising meat. The pork shoulder in my book is braised in pineapple juice for two hours and it’s just a fall-apart protein. I love that. I have a lot of it in my book, so you can definitely see that I’m a sucker for fall-apart meat! I have four fall-apart meat recipes in the book actually, including carne asada tacos. It’s so good for entertaining, too, because you just start cooking before guests come over and leave it alone and then once the guests are there, just open the lid! You can say, “Hey, welcome, I braised this for two hours and took a nap and it’s done!”
With that, too, I love to do really simple, prepared sides. For the pork shoulder, I do a parsnip and celery mash and just keep it on a double boiler to stay warm. I also do a roasted cauliflower and apple puree. Literally, you just roast it until it gets brown, blend it up in the food processor, drizzle with olive oil and you’re done. People think it’s mashed potatoes and they love it! But there’s no fat in it.
What do you eat to fuel a serious workout or skating session?
I do a clean protein, like a piece of salmon or tuna. I’m a tunaholic! After a workout I like to do a clean protein with a veggie like brussels sprouts, very simply prepared, maybe in the skillet with a little olive oil and pepper, maybe a sauteed green like chard or kale.
How does that compare to how you’d have to fuel a skating workout when you were competing?
I wish it was better, but when I was competing, I loved eating carbs. It was all about carbs, a little lighter on the protein. I felt like I had such a restrictive caloric intake at that time that when I binged, I binged on carbs. I ate a lot of pasta and I had a sweet tooth so I’d have a rice cracker with diet jam on it. But I think carbs nowadays make you feel more bloat-y. I still love them, I like risottos and pastas. I have a spinach and almond pesto in my book that I eat a lot and I often switch up the greens in it. I made a kale and artichoke pesto the other day. It’s a great way to get your greens and your carbs at the same time.
In your mind, what do cooking and skating have in common?
They have so much in common it’s not even funny! There are so many layers to each. So, with skating there’s the costumes, the choreography, the lighting, the jumps, the spins, the footwork…layer upon layer that makes up the total package. And it’s the same thing with cooking. It’s the visual, how it looks on the plate, how it smells, how it tastes…smooth? Crunchy? Creamy? It’s all those different layers that lend to the overall presentation of a dish.
Is there anything else you’d like Blisstree readers to know about you or your cookbook?
I think the cookbook is really geared towards people with an active lifestyle, which is everyone these days. The book is filled with really great tips for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. All my friends vetted the recipes (especially the ones with too many steps!) so I think really, the book is for everybody.
Photos: Lyons Press