From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
To hear figure skater Brian Boitano tell it, those four U.S. National titles, two World Championships and 1988 Olympic gold medal he won never should have happened. "Most male skaters are 5'3", 5'4"," says the 5'11" Boitano. "Compared to them, I was a giant, with big legs and a booty. Judges were always telling me to lose weight—and I worried they'd ignore my talent because of it."

And so the skater resorted to drastic diets to slim down to 156 lbs. "I would eat shredded wheat, pour nonfat milk on it to get it soggy—and then pour the milk off to save calories," he says. He also once dropped 10 lbs. in three days by eating only pickled beets, plain tuna and grapefruit, and even tried one meal of mushroom caps filled with diet grape jelly. "It was crazy, I know, and I don't advocate it," says Boitano, 45. "But I think the creativity I had with food back then made an impact."

Whether it's a positive impact is for Food Network viewers to decide: On Aug. 23 the cable channel debuted a new cooking show hosted by the skater—set in his three-story San Francisco home—called What Would Brian Boitano Make? (The title is a nod to the song "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" from the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.)

Although Boitano isn't a trained chef, "his cooking was as savvy and effortless as his skating," says Bob Tuschman, senior vice president of programming at Food Network. "I thought, 'Boitano just scored another 10.'" For his part Boitano—who on the show whips up everything from bacon bourbon martinis to pork chops with gravy—is thrilled that he is "finally allowed to eat!" Among his new favorites: barbecued brisket, braised short ribs and breakfast at IHOP. Rest assured, this doesn't mean Boitano is aiming to look like Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory. He still skates two hours every morning and will perform in four TV specials this winter. This schedule doesn't leave much time for dating ("I'm single right now" is all he'll say), but Boitano says he's content hosting regular game nights—he's a wiz at Taboo—for friends.

And although his pals have come to rely on Boitano for a good, home-cooked meal, the skater provides another valuable service. "I'm the first call for them at Halloween," he says. "They'll ask if I have a pirate costume, and I'll say, 'No, but I do have an Elvis one with stirrups!'"