In the 1970s, Cincinnati was second only to New York in its concentration of fine dining restaurants. There were three five-star restaurants, nine four-star, and 11 three-star restaurants. There was a couple that lived in Boston that used to fly into Cincinnati regularly, stay for seven days and nights and dine out every night. Imagine that! They came here just to dine!
The five-star restaurants were all French. Maisonette was the haute cuisine, Pigall’s was more provincial, and our Gourmet Room was Parisian style. We supported each other. [Maisonette chef] Georges Haidon would come over to my restaurant and have dinner, I would go over to his and have dinner.
Of the 110 chefs in the city, at least 50 were European: German, Hungarian, Austrian, French, Italian, Irish, and English…different ethnic groups that took pride in their cuisine and wanted to show it off. Grammer’s brought in Janos Kiss. He used to make spaetzle by hand for Schnitzel Holstein. God, his chicken stock was so rich! I had better wiener schnitzel at Grammer’s than I did in Austria.
After 1979, things began to fall apart. Societal changes destroyed fine dining. We started to teach our families to eat with their hands instead of a knife and fork. The conservative moral majority turned people off. The hotels were not attracting conventions. The racial divisiveness . . . those sort of things hurt a city. Chicago, Louisville, Kansas City, and Indianapolis began to grow, recognizing that to be a great city you need great restaurants. We just became another city.
Three five-star restaurants! Nine four-star restaurants! My God, can you imagine if we had that now? —John Kinsella, Senior Chef Instructor, Midwest Culinary Institute, and former executive chef, The Gourmet Room
Originally published in the October 2011 issue.