Taste of Cincinnati winners rise under pressure
We see food. We eat food. That's the amount of planning most of us put into Taste of Cincinnati, this weekend's free-wheeling foodie event that ushers in summer.
Freewheeling, that is, unless you're Bob and Sue Traut.
They are the creators and purveyors of this year's Best Damn Dish, the lyrically named Raspberry Cloud Pie.
As Taste's grand winners, they know hundreds of hungry Cincinnatians will soon be circling their booth like coyotes. And as Sue Traut well remembers, "When we have won Best Dessert in the past and not had enough pie, it wasn't pretty."
While the average Taste-goer only has to remember to bring plenty of dollar bills and wear pants with an elastic waist, restaurant owners plan for weeks for an event that draws 500,000 people - and is susceptible to heat, cold, high winds and downpours.
The Trauts committed to their Taste offerings in April and immediately started planning logistics.
Along with more than 200 Raspberry Cloud Pies, they will schlep 40 gallons of beer cheese, 75 gallons of potato soup and 40 gallons of black beans for burritos.
It will take three freezers alone to transport the pies, which are made of whipped raspberry sherbet and vanilla ice cream and must stay hard-frozen. "If the electricity goes off," Bob acknowledges, "it's two weeks' worth of work in a big puddle."
That's two weeks of work wedged around the Trauts' very full-time job of running du jours restaurant in Walnut Hills and Courtyard Café in Over-the-Rhine.
When Taste rolls around, extended family members are called in for triage, Bob Traut's back begins to ache from cutting stacks of frozen pies, and 10-year-old Lily Traut divides her time between homework and shuttling pies to the freezer.
"Every year I have a breakdown, but within a week we say, 'OK, we'll do it again next year,'" Sue Traut says with calm resignation.
The perennial problem is predicting how many pies to make.
In 2001 - the first of four years the frozen pie won Best Dessert - Bob made 100. Each of the three days of Taste, the pies sold out in the first hour. "I went back to the restaurant at midnight to make more pies so people weren't disappointed," he says.
In 2006, the pie won Best Dessert again and Bob was ready. He bought and filled four new freezers with pies. The temperature went up to 96 degrees - "People were passing out," Bob recalls - and the scene seemed ripe for ice cream pies.
"I ended up with 150 pies left over," he says.
But after snagging Taste's highest honor, the Trauts know their cold pie will be in hot demand this weekend.
"A lot of people realize it's a huge event, and they bring a certain amount of money. So they see who won, and they sit down in the park and have their map and make their plan," Sue says.
But even those who don't know the pedigree of the pie will find their way to Trauts' booth (across from Government Square - for winning, the Trauts got first pick of a spot). With its appealing look - bands of pink and white ice cream over a dark-chocolate Oreo base, snazzed up with chocolate sauce and whipped cream - the pie is an eye-catcher that leads perfect strangers to beg directions to its source.
"Who doesn't like whipped cream?" Bob says, shrugging his shoulders.
Standing next to a stack of the frozen delights, Sue adds, "It's just a beautiful thing."
By Krista Ramsey, Cincinnati Enquirer