Before he had a show on HGTV and The Food network, Brian Boitano was an accomplished figure skater in the U.S. Boitano has made headlines as the 1988 Olympic Champion and the U.S. National Champion from 1985 to 1988. But he also made headlines in 2014, when he publicly came out after being named a delegate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Boitano was in Kansas City for the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships. He also hosted a happy hour event at Cleavor & Cork on Friday, Jan 20th.
We’re looking forward to you coming to Kansas City, and to your Cleaver & Cork event. Have you been to the area before?
I toured there almost every year with Champions on Ice, so we would have a couple days off in the Plaza area. So we’d stop here and play Kemper Arena. We have fond memories of traveling through there. I won my first US national title in KC, so it holds a special place in my heart.
How are you involved with the U.S. Figure Skating Championships?
I’ve been running a program for U.S. Figure Skating for seven years. When I used to compete, I skated in the clubs overseen by USFS. Now I run the alumni association, I’ve been doing that for 7 or 8 years. Getting our past champions who have created what our sport is to come back and inspire the younger generation and keep up in the world of figure skating.
What can the audience expect to see at this year’s championship?
People who have never seen it before, if they haven’t seen it live- they might question if they know what’s happening in the competition. Who you think is the best skater is usually the best —you can tell who the best skaters are. It’s really fun to feel the energy in the building and it’s always nice to go to a competition because there’s something for everyone: the music, the flexibility, the pretty women, the outfits. There’s a lot happening, and it’s a fun way to spend a day or a week.
The top three skaters in each category will go on to the world championships, so this is hugely important in a skater’s career. To win a U.S. national title not only means you’re the champion of America, but also in the world championships. There’s no larger achievement.
Do you miss the competitive side of skating, or are you happy with what you’re doing now?
I’m happy. When I left the competitive side behind, there were no regrets or expectations unfulfilled. So I love going back; it’s fun for us to go back to the championships. Can you imagine another area of work where you get to go back and see people you’ve known since you were 13 years old? You never know who you’re going to see each year.
You came out publicly after it was announced that you would be a delegate for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. What kind of reaction did you receive?
I didn’t get any haters—I got all love. I never heard any hate. They understood what I was doing in helping support the president’s message of tolerance and diversity. The thing that I really liked was most all of the publications printed my entire press release. Most people read it in its entirety.
Was it hard to be a gay athlete before you came out?
It was. It sort of the antithesis of what people think it is. It was very homophobic and most all of my competitors were straight guys, and I kept it private for that reason. I think it’s more open now, which is a really good thing. People have a tendency now to be a little bit more of who they are. It’s a really good thing.
Was it liberating to come out publicly, or how did you feel once it was announced?
It wasn’t liberating, because I didn’t have anything to be liberated from— my friends and family had already known. I didn’t feel like I needed to share that with anyone but close friends. I had never been ashamed of it or hid it, but when the delegation put me on the spot, I couldn’t support it without coming out personally. It was a little scary, because I was sharing an area of my life that I never thought I was going to share with other people.
Why was it important to you to be a delegate during the Sochi games?
I didn’t know before I signed on that the president was sending a message with his delegation. He had appointed to the delegation two gay/lesbian women and I didn’t feel like I could go with them without standing up and supporting it for a reason. It was important to support it in the way of personally standing up because of who I am.
You have passions outside of skating, including cooking. How did you develop a love for it? I was on such a strict diet as a competitive skater, that when my career was over I started to cook with a bunch of friends. We had similar taste in food and we’d all get together and cook and try different recipes. That sort of grew into a passion in food. My passion for food is based on my extended family and creating memories.
You also have your own cookbook, What Would Brian Boitano Make. What are some of your signature dishes or recipes?
The cookbook is based on my life of travels, and how I’ve been eating around the world since I was 14 years old. It’s about me finding my roots and spending time in Italy, and wanting to try and create new food traditions. For me it was important to put together a cookbook with fresh ingredients with few steps.
I really like making braised proteins. I do a pork shoulder that I really like, and I do a lamb shank. Anything that’s low and slowly cooked, I absolutely love that. It’s great for entertaining.
You’ve talked about your love of entertaining in your home, specifically with cocktails and appetizers. What do you like to serve?
I would create cocktails for every event that I would do. I’ll set up a bar in the house with recipes for them to follow with juices and spirits. I’ll ask people to invent their own cocktail with a basic idea of what equal parts to use. And then we’ll just sit around and have appetizers that are simple. I call it entertaining unplugged, it’s easy to do cocktails and make appetizers as we go.
What tips would you give to beginning cooks who want to make quality meals without spending too much time in the kitchen?
I think the secret to that is you don’t have to have a lot of ingredients as long as they’re good ingredients. Italians eat bruschetta, which is super simple to make—you just have to make sure you use good tomatoes, good olive oil and good basil. It’s not difficult.
When you’re not skating, cooking or traveling around the world, what do you do to unwind and relax?
I don’t know when I’m not doing any of those things! I don’t have a lot of time. I spend a lot of time in Italy. I did a show for HGTV where I renovated my great-great grandfather’s house. I spend a lot of time there and I’m going to open a cooking school in in Northern Italy soon.