Eating Well: Cincinnati - #123

BURT WOLF: Cincinnati, the city that's famous for its chili. We'll find out why, and discover a technique for getting some of the calories out of that chili. We'll visit a famous German restaurant and get their recipe for sauerbraten. We'll find out why Cincinnati became known as Porkopolis. Take a look at the world's sexiest zoo and get a health tip from the lowland gorillas. Join me, Burt Wolf Eating Well, in Cincinnati.

BURT WOLF: In 1788, a European settlement was established on the banks of the Ohio River. The location was ideal. The land was broad and flat, the hills surrounding it were not too rugged, and its position on the Ohio, directly between the Great Miami and the Little Miami Rivers, made it a natural for the control of river traffic and commerce. The founding fathers named it Losanteville. During the next year, 1789, Fort Washington was built within the settlement. On an inspection tour, the governor of the Northwest Territory announced that he hated the name Losanteville, and instead was going to name it after a favorite Revolutionary War officers' club called the Society of Cincinnatus. Since no one was going to argue with the governor of the Northwest territory, Losanteville became Cincinnati. At the time, around the beginning of the nineteenth century, everyone expected Cincinnati to become the most important and prosperous city in the United States. The Ohio River, which had become the main artery through the western interior, brought more and more traffic and cargo directly to Cincinnati's shores. People would arrive by flatboat, which was fine, as long as you didn't have to go up-stream... keel boat, where the extremely hardy crew would use long poles to push the boat against the current... and by 1811, the first steam boats, which were bringing various manufactured goods and harvests up and down the mighty Ohio. Cincinnati kept growing. In the early 1800's, there was tremendous competition between similar cities to see who could make the greatest progress and have the biggest advantage over the others. In a sort of huge-scale version of “Can You Top This,” Cincinnati encouraged a boom in construction, industry and public works projects to keep the young city expanding more ambitiously than say, Pittsburgh or Louisville. 

And expand it did. Cincinnati became the fastest-growing city in America, and between 1840 and 1850, the population grew an incredible 250 percent. No wonder it became known as Queen of the West. To this day, it's still nicknamed the Queen City. 

The speed of the city's growth, however, slowed down dramatically when it failed to embrace the expanding railroad networks. That shifted the midwest center of commerce westward to Chicago. And so the city turned inward, focusing on improving the quality of life for its residents and visitors. If Cincinnati could no longer be the epicenter of trade, then perhaps it could be the Paris of America. The Cincinnati Music Hall became a symbol of that shift, from the commercial to the social. And ever since, Cincinnati has worked overtime to become one of the most livable cities in America. 

Today, Cincinnati has a collection of some of the finest museums in the world. There's a strong emphasis on art, science, and history, but they also have the College Football Hall of Fame. The city has a nice sense of balance. Their world-class ballet and opera companies, a famous symphony orchestra, riverboat cruises. The train terminal is an Art Deco landmark. And the Roebling Suspension Bridge is a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. They have the Cincinnati Reds and the Bengals. And a fabulous zoo. 

The Cincinnati Zoo is known as the world's sexiest zoo -- strange, but true. And it got the title because of its incredible success rate with the birth white Bengal tigers and lowland gorillas. When you look around the zoo and you see how beautiful it is, with its flowers and song birds, and waterfalls, anything would fall in love. From my point of view, however, the way to a person's heart is through their stomach. 

The great French philosopher Brilliarte Savarin once said, "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are." When it comes to a city, you could make a slight change in that and say, "Tell me what the people in the city are eating and I'll tell you the city's history. And when it comes to Cincinnati, that is definitely true.

Cincinnati was a center of German culture, and a German approach to eating and drinking can still be found. Cincinnati tries to preserve its past. The people of this city have restored many of their buildings and turned them into valuable assets for the community. An example is The Phoenix. Originally built in 1893, its 50,000 square feet, stained glass windows, and white marble staircase make it one of the most dramatic structures in the city. Today it has been restored as a major meeting and convention facility with a restaurant that has been chosen as one of the best new dining spots in the country. And when you're talking about food in Cincinnati, the subject quickly turns to chili. 

Since the 1920s, this city has been consumed with an interest in producing in producing an unusual variety of the dish. There are well over a hundred chili restaurants in the area. They're also very interested in barbecue. The Montgomery Inn actually air-expresses their ribs all over the country. For decades Findley Market has been a gathering point for Cincinnati's good cooks.

When it comes time for a sweet, everyone heads for Graeter’s. Graeter’s is a local family- owned ice cream company that has become a Cincinnati institution. And it's well-named. In a comparative tasting of ice creams, it really did taste greater. And lovers of classic French food have frequented the elegant Maisonnette for generations. 

Cincinnati's earliest settlers came from many different places. But the majority were people who had been born in the one of the original 13 States of either Scottish or English ancestry. But from 1830 to 1840, most of the new arrivals came from Germany. They soon represented 30 percent of Cincinnati's population. They were so much a part of the city that the government published its ordinances in German as well as English. 

In Cincinnati, as in most 19th Century American cities, if you were rich or powerful or important, you lived downtown, in the center of the area. If you were a new arrival of less importance, you lived at the edge of town. Most citizens of German ancestry lived in a district that they made so Germanic that, eventually it became known as Over-the-Rhine. Rhine, as in Rhine River. 

The area still has a series of shops that deal in the specialties of German cuisine. It's been the constant arrival of new nationalities who, to a great extent, have held onto their gastronomic traditions that give our country the widest selection of good food in the world. 

In the heart of the Over-the-Rhine district sits Grammer's Restaurant. Established in 1872, it's been in continuous operation ever since. It was originally opened by a German baker. It quickly established a reputation for really good food, and became the home of the German Bakers' Singing Society. Now, don't laugh. The German Bakers' Singing Society was very important, and if they ate in your restaurant, you had it made. So Grammer's was the spot for important political meetings, and the hangout for famous musicians and athletes. 

Under the direction of the present owner, Jim Tarbell, Grammers is better than ever, and still has a culinary core of great German dishes. Example: sauerbraten with spaetzle. A brisket round or rump gets tied and put into a marinade made up of vinegar, juices, chopped vegetables and spices. The meat sits there for four days in the refrigerator. When it comes out, the meat is browned on all sides with some carrots, onions, celery, spices, and tomato paste. The marinade is poured back on. Some stock is added, the pot's covered, everything simmers in the oven for three hours. Then the meat is removed, some crushed ginger snaps are added to the cooking juices, which is left to cook down until thick. Then the meat's sliced and served with the strained marinade.

When most people think about things that are made in Germany, they start thinking about quality and a high technical skill. Now you'd expect that with cars and cameras; what about wine-making? In most countries, wine-making is a rather unstructured art form. But not so in Germany. The Germans have combined this ancient art form with the most advanced scientific and technological skills. 

Dr. Franz Mischel, co-director of the German Wine Institute. “Tell me about the quality control in the vineyard.”

DR. FRANZ MISCHEL: Well, you see, it starts already in the vineyard, the soil and the climate must be suitable. So we are not allowed to plant everywhere in vineyard, only on the best places. 

Secondly, we cannot plant any grape variety, only the real ones here, the Reisling or the Spaetelgunder. More, we cannot pick our grapes at any time. Only if they are fully matured and the government gives the date, the first date, not before that, we are allowed. 

And then during picking, there is a very exact quality grading control, whether the grapes are mature enough to -- to meet the requirements for a Cabernet or Spaetleser, or an Ausleser. 

BURT WOLF: That's what you call a quality control system. I'd like to have something like that for everything we eat or drink. 

This is the vine growing district of Germany. It's filled with a series of beautiful villages that line the banks of the rivers. And it's become world-famous for its low-alcohol, late harvest wines. It's also become famous for its democratic approach to rating wine. In almost any other country, if you have a famous piece of land, then you get a very high quality designation for your wine, no matter how good or bad that wine is. Not so in Germany. The German government has set up the most democratic wine system in the world. 

They don't care what you were in the past, and they don't care what you're going to be in the future. This is the land of what's in the glass now. Each year, the wine makers must submit samples of their wine to a government tasting panel. The tasters don't know whose wine they're tasting. They just rate the quality in the glass. Then the government notifies the wine maker of his standing, and it's marked on the label with the and a number. Yesterday they told you you would not go far; today on your winery, they hang a star. In the world of German wines, you're as good as your last glass. 

Germany produces some of the world's finest wines: light, low in alcohol, and delicate. They're made in a part of the world that looks like the original Magic Kingdom. And the wines from these estates have some rather magic qualities of their own. They've actually been able to produce a white wine that goes perfectly with meat, fish, or poultry.

When the average American is confronted with a German wine label, it's like being put in front of a maze. You know where you want to go; you just don't know how to get there. Well, here's how to read a German wine label. This is the name of the producer; this is his family crest, which is a classy thing to have; this is the year; the town; the vineyard; the degree of ripeness of the grape; the kind of grape; a government guarantee of quality with a number. This means that it all happened at the vineyard, and this is the region it happened in. 

Now that's an enormous amount of information to have on a label, but it's all quite valuable. You end up knowing exactly what is in the bottle.

This is Schloss Johannesburg in Germany's Rhinegar region. It's famous among wine authorities for its special late harvest wines, late harvest wines with a very rich and intense flavor. It's quite natural, when you think about it. The longer a grape stays on the vine, the more time nature has to do its job. Actually the whole idea of a late harvest wine came about as a result of an accident that took place right here in the 1700s. In those days, the vineyards of Germany belonged to the church. The local bishop had to give his official permission before each year's harvest could begin. One year a messenger was sent from the vineyard to the church to get permission to begin the harvest. The trip, which should only have taken a couple of days, ended up taking a couple of weeks. 

Story has it that the messenger ran into a lady friend, and one thing led to another, and before you knew it, two weeks had zipped by. You know how it is when you're having fun. When he finally got back to the vineyard, everybody thought that the harvest was too late, the grapes were over-ripe and that it was going to be ruined. But they thought, well, why not; we'll pick them anyway. 

They did, and the grapes produced a fabulous wine. It has a unique balance with a refreshing flavor of ripe fruit. What a wonderful and romantic idea. A toast to the lady of the late harvest. Wine lovers will always remember you.

This is the Cloister Abrebach, a monastery that was built during the 12th Century. Wild vines have always grown in this neighborhood, but the actual varieties that produce the great German wines of today were planted in about the year 100 by the Romans who had conquered this territory.

In the Middle Ages, wine making moved into the monasteries, and the monks turned out to be fabulous wine makers. they had a kind of a scientific approach to it and they produced some excellent wines. I guess that's why whenever you see drawings of the monks from the period, they're always smiling. Wine-making remained in the monasteries until the early 1800s, when Napoleon came to this area. And he took his hand out of his jacket long enough to pick up a glass of the local wine, decided that it was so good, that the right to make wine had to go back to the people. And so, since 1803, they've been making fabulous wine here. 

But wine is not the only delicious export that comes from Germany. In 1889, Herman Bahlssen started the Bahlssen Bakery in Hanover, Germany. Today it's the largest cookie maker in Germany, and makes some of the most fabulous cookies.

Bahlssen’s approach was to use the most advanced technological systems of the time. But he kept in the hand processes that insured a high standard of quality. Today, things are pretty much the same. Technology for the 21st Century, right next to the hands-on baker.

From the beginning, Bahlssen used artists to design his packaging, turning Bahlssen cookie boxes into works of art. This place is a cookie-lover's heaven. And it's really quite amazing to see the way the cookies are made. My favorite is a little chocolate and wafer number called a choco-star. It starts out on this amazing machine. It's actually a giant metal wheel. Wafer batter is dripped on the outside, and flame heat does the cooking from the inside. This continuous sheet of freshly-baked wafer keeps coming off the end of the roller. Wafers are cut into smaller sheets and move across the bakery on equipment that looks like it just came out of the Star Wars set. When the wafers get to their proper orbit, a layer of rich chocolate is spread on. A second sheet of wafer joins up to make a chocolate wafer sandwich. The sheets are then sliced into individual cookies. But that's not all. More chocolate. A little solid, rectangular block is molded and set on top of the chocolate wafer sandwich. The inspectors make sure that each cookie is perfect. Is she smiling because she gets to eat the ones she pulls out? Can I have her job when she goes on lunch break? Will I ever be able to stop eating these cookies and get back to Cincinnati? 

The years between 1830 and 1840 were years where life in Cincinnati was strongly influenced by the German community. It was also a time of great industrial growth, and the industry most responsible for this period of development was pork packing. From its earliest days, Cincinnati was surrounded with rich agricultural land that was put to good use. Just about every farmer raised a few hogs. After all, hogs were easy. Let them roam around in the forest nearby and they pretty much took care of themselves. And in the 1820s, farmers around Cincinnati began to grow more corn. They fed the corn to the hogs and quickly noticed that the hogs grew faster, fatter, produced a better quality meat and produced more profits. So they raised more hogs.

By 1835, Cincinnati was the pork processing capital of the United States and was actually known as Porkopolis. Over the years, however, pork consumption declined. Its high fat content was in conflict with the new desire for a low-fat diet. As a result, pork producers reduced the fat. Since 1983, pork has been on a low-fat diet. It has been able to lose, on average 31 per cent of its fat, and 17 per cent of its calories. As a matter of fact, a piece of lean-cut pork loin has about the same number of calories and the same amount of fat as a piece of chicken breast with the skin off, which is quite amazing. The leanest cuts of pork are pork tenderloin, loin chops, and center cut ham. Now if hogs can go on a low-fat diet, and be successful, I would think humans could, too.

In 1845, Cincinnati was the most important pork packing city in the world. Its sheer size led to the growth of industries associated with pork. When pork fat, called lard, is produced, there are two by-products. One is used to manufacture candles, the other to fabricate soap. 

in 1837, there were two men married to sisters. One produced candles and the other produced soap. And so they were always competing with each other to get the pork fat that they needed to make their products. They were a constant source of aggravation to each other. Then one day, the father-in-law said, "Hey, guys, get a grip on yourself. Join together in one company and stop all of these problems." And so they did. One man was named Proctor; and the other man Gamble. And as of April 2nd, 1837, they were a team. About 50 years later, Gamble's son, who was a trained chemist, came up with a wonderful formula for a new soap, very pure, very inexpensive. But he didn't have a good name for it. A couple of weeks later, Proctor's son was sitting in church, listening to a psalm about the purity of ivory palaces, and he suddenly realized that the right name for this soap was Ivory. Ninety-nine and forty-four one-hundredths per cent pure. 

And speaking of pure palaces, the Cincinnati Empress Burlesque House and Moving Picture Theater was a great “cultural” attraction during the 1920s and '30s. If you look closely at this old photo, down in the right-hand corner, you will see a sign for a chili restaurant next to the theater. And that's where the Cincinnati chili craze got started. The old Empress Theater is gone but the city's affection for chili lives on, particularly in the Skyline Chili Restaurants. 

From the beginning, the basic approach has been the same. A thick ground beef and tomato sauce is cooked and called chili. But it's served in very unorthodox ways. A plain bowl of chili is called Cincinnati chili One Way. Two Way is served over spaghetti. Three-Way over spaghetti with a topping of cheese. Four-Way adds chopped onions. Five-Way is all of the above plus beans. And Coneys are hot dogs smothered with chili, onions, cheese, and oyster crackers.

Show business folks traveling on the burlesque circuit spread the word that when you got to Cincinnati, you had to taste the local chili. Chili became so much a part of this town, that when there was a local robbery, and the police circulated a photograph of the robber, he was instantly spotted by a waitress in a chili restaurant. He'd been in to eat before the robbery and he had to have the five ways of chili explained to him. Obviously, no local bandit.

The Skyline chili recipe is a family secret. The three owners won't even fly together. But to give us a reasonable facsimile, with a low-fat, twist, I've asked Cincinnati chef Anita Cunningham to show us her version. 

A little vegetable oil goes into a big pan and then three pounds of very lean beef. That gets browned throughout. Then Anita reduces the fat content by putting the meat into a strainer to let some of the fat drain out. It's a good technique for most ground beef recipes. After the meat has been browned, put it into a colander for a few minutes and press out the excess fat. Fewer calories from fat, healthier recipes. 

While the meat's draining, a chopped onion goes into the pan. A minced clove of garlic. And a tablespoon of chili powder. The meat goes back in and six cups of tomato juice, a little Worcestershire sauce and a few hits of tabasco. Finally Anita mixes in an eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of allspice, really unusual seasonings. They're only found in Cincinnati chili and they give the dish a distinct taste. 

The Cincinnatian Hotel was constructed in 1882. The structure is of such architectural importance that it has been placed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. The original marble and walnut staircase gives you an idea of what life was like in the days before income tax. For its 105th birthday, it received a complete renovation. They spent over $23 million on the job. There's a fabulous atrium that runs down through the center of the building, and many of the rooms have balconies that look out on the area. 

You know, I wouldn't mind a complete renovation for my 105th birthday, either. Only problem is, I don't think $23 million is going to do the job. You're looking at a lot of work here.

Today, the Cincinnatian is considered by critical guide books to be the hotel in Cincinnati with the best rooms, the best service, and the best food. The Cincinnatian has always given me the feeling that the ultimate fairy godmother was looking into every detail that would make a guest comfortable, which is almost the truth. The Cincinnatian is run by a group of extraordinarily talented ladies. Denise Vandersol is the general manager, Ann Keeling is the director of marketing, and Anita Cunningham is the executive chef. 

For many centuries in both Europe and the United States, the word “chef” brought to mind a picture of a man who was as wide as he was tall. If he didn't look like his own biggest customer, his talent was in question. Fortunately, things are changing. Today many of the most talented American chefs are young women who are as interested in good health as in good taste. Anita Cunningham has been the executive chef here at the Cincinnatian Hotel since 1988, and she's a perfect example of what I mean. 

She takes pork, the Cincinnati classic, and prepares a low-fat, high-taste recipe for grilled pork loin. Anita starts by making a marinade, mustard, light soy sauce, chopped garlic, chopped ginger and vegetable oil get whisked together. The pork loin is sliced into medallions about one-inch thick and covered with the marinade.

ANITA CUNNINGHAM: And then you're going to marinate it for about four to six hours, and you're going to cover it tightly and put it in the refrigerator. 

BURT WOLF: Then the pork goes onto the grill or under a broiler until it's fully cooked. While that's cooking, a hot salad is prepared. Sesame oil goes into a non-stick pan, then sliced onions, strips of red pepper, mushrooms, garlic, shallots, spinach, and a mustard, oil, and soy sauce dressing. Heated, tossed onto a plate, and the grilled pork, and you're set.

Another example of Anita's approach to cooking is her heart-healthy fish. A little canola oil goes into a non-stick pan, then boneless, skinless fish filets. They cook for about three minutes on each side. And onto the serving plate. Anita has two little mounds of couscous on the plate. Couscous is a cracked wheat grain which is very popular in North Africa. But you can use rice, just as good. And back into the original pan: some cut-up lobster meat, chopped tomato, mushrooms, basil, parsley, tarragon, chopped spinach, lemon juice and a splash of chicken stock. As soon as the spinach is wilted, everything goes onto the fish, and it's ready to serve. Low in fat, nice variety of vegetables, low sodium soy sauce, just to play safe with your salt intake, and lots of protein.

So what have we learned here in Cincinnati about good food and good health? Well, from the lowland gorillas we've learned not to eat the snacks that people throw at you. A good piece of advice for all of us. 

Snacks are a perfectly acceptable part of a balanced diet. Just make sure they're part of your plan. Letting a piece of low-fat beef marinate in a liquid with a strongly acidic base, the kind you find in vinegar, will make the meat more tender and more digestible. Pork producers have been able to reduce the fat content of pork by an average of 31 per cent. Pork tenderloin is almost as low in fat as skinless chicken breast. You can reduce the fat, cholesterol, and calorie content of your favorite ground beef recipes by letting the meat drain in a strainer after it's been browned. And finally, when it comes to fats in oils, it's a good idea to follow along with Cincinnati's history. Give up most of the animal fat, Move to vegetable oils and unsaturated oils like canola, whenever possible. 

That's Eating Well in Cincinnati. Please join us next time as we travel around the world, looking for foods that taste good and make it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.