Only one man on the planet straddles the nexus between ice skaters, Food Network fans and South Park junkies—that’d be Brian Boitano. Back in the ’80s, he wowed crowds with his signature “Tano triple Lutz” and won every men’s figure skating title, including an Olympic gold medal in 1988. A decade later, South Park gave his career a new pop-culture twist with the song “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” (He’d fight grizzly bears and evil robot kings, save maidens fair and build the pyramids, to start.)
Between all these exploits, the San Franciscan also learned to cook, crafting ever more elaborate dinner parties for his friends in his Russian Hill home. Last summer he parlayed that love of entertaining into an oddball Food Network show shot in his own kitchen called What Would Brian Boitano Make?, where he crafts fun party dishes like “coq au vin-guine” and bourbon bacon apple tarts.
This weekend, he’s in Portland for the Bite of Oregon along with Top Chef’s Dave Martin. Before that, though, Boitano, 46, talked to WW by phone, promising “not to swear” before launching into a conversation about starving skaters and Oregon berries.
WW: To be honest, the first time I turned on Food Network and saw “figure skater Brian Boitano,” I was like, “What the hell?” But you’re really funny and loopy on the TV show, and your recipes are great.
Brian Boitano: Yeah, loopy—“cheeky,” I say…I’m a self-trained cook. I didn’t start cooking until I was 25 because I had such a strict diet from training. I didn’t branch out and eat a lot of things. I started meeting friends who had an interest in food and we cooked at my house all the time. You know, after I won the Olympics, we’d go out to eat every single night in San Francisco and I didn’t pay for anything. It was literally free meals for a year and a half. I think that was part of the discovery; I wanted to learn how to make those things at home.
How’d you hook up with Food Network?
I approached them. I actually had a different idea for a show involving food and skating together....
That’s interesting, because I think the one thing your TV show is missing is an ice kitchen.
That would be, oh my God. (Laughs.) Ice floors, then I could skate everywhere. I’d looove that. I gotta talk to [them] about the budget, you know? I [once] did a TV special where they had an ice castle and you could skate through it...you could rent rooms to sleep in. Maybe mine would be similar to that—with an ice kitchen.
You could do a holiday special!
I could do double axels in between adding ingredients. That’d be awesome.
You could have guest stars and they could do skating numbers and chop vegetables with their skates at the same time….
Exactly. Oh my God.
OK, back to the real TV show...
I call it a reality docu-soap, with great food. My thought on the recipes [which are mine] is that if my friends can’t make it, I don’t want to make it on TV.
What are you cooking at the Bite?
I’m revising my pear-and-almond crostata recipe with Oregon berries. I put on Facebook “I’m going to Bite of Oregon, what should I make?” Everyone said, “[Use] marionberries. They’re amazing.”
You mentioned your “strict training diet” as a skater. When did that start?
When I was 17 years old and the judges told me I needed to lose weight—my body-fat percentage at that point was about 4 percent. I basically starved myself. I didn’t eat over 1,800 calories a day and I would skate six hours. It wasn’t right. Before skating I would have a bowl of cereal, but pour the milk out so I wouldn’t have those calories, and I’d have a big jug of coffee. That’s it. It wasn’t an ideal diet, but when you’re a kid there’s not a thought process of “this needs to be healthy.”
I see skaters today—boys and girls—and they still look like gliding skeletons.
That’s the way the judges like seeing them. I’d love teach younger athletes how to eat. Maybe that’s a food thing I’ll branch off into….
When you were skating full time, did you ever imagine you’d be a pop-culture phenomenon thanks to a cartoon?
No! Once I embraced it, it’s just been great. When the [South Park] movie came out, I went to see it alone in the back of the theater, and when my person came on everyone was laughing and I thought, “This is really surreal. I’m watching myself and everybody’s laughing and they don’t even know that I’m here.”
Do you catch yourself humming the song?
Oh God, no! (Laughs.) That would be pathetic wouldn’t it? But my manager has it as a ringer on her cell phone.
GO: The Bite of Oregon takes place at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Southwest Naito Parkway between Harrison and Glisan streets. Brian Boitano appears 5:45 pm Saturday and 1:30 pm Sunday on the Oregon Chef Stage. Fest hours: 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday, 10 am-8 pm Sunday, Aug. 6-8. $10 weekend pass, $8 daily admission, kids 12 and under free. Info, full vendor list and schedule at biteoforegon.com.