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Food & Drink

PBS to highlight Pittsburgh's food history

| Friday, Sept. 11, 2015, 6:52 p.m.
Chef Walter Staib of PBS' 'A Taste of History'
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Chef Walter Staib of PBS' 'A Taste of History'

Although Pittsburgh is a well-known city, many people don't think of it as an 18th-century hub, says celebrity Philadelphia chef Walter Staib. But this weekend, Staib plans to come here so he can show viewers of “A Taste of History” how people lived and ate in this region many generations ago.

Staib, host of the Emmy Award-winning PBS show “A Taste of History,” is coming to the Fort Pitt Museum in Point State Park on Sept. 12 to film a segment for the show, which combines cooking lessons with history lessons in settings that have historical significance.

On Sept. 13 and 14, Staib — also chef and owner of the historic City Tavern in Philadelphia, where George Washington and other founding fathers dined — will go on to visit Downtown's Omni William Penn Hotel. There, he will do another segment that includes talk about the hotel's elegance and significance, along with a cooking demonstration from a menu the hotel offered in 1917.

Both segments will be squeezed into a 30-minute, commercial-free episode that will air in early 2016 on PBS and RLTV networks.

“Not that Pittsburgh needs to be on the map ... but from our perspective, we really wanted to give some oomph for it,” says Staib, a native of Germany's Black Forest area. “I'm really looking forward to it.”

The food cooked at the museum — which focuses on the history of the French and Indian War in the late 1700s — will be simple and campfire style, while the hotel's sophisticated menu includes chateaubriand and strawberry shortcake. The focus at the museum is more on the history than the food, says Staib, a third-generation restaurateur with more than 40 years of experience.

Episodes of “A Taste of History,” now filming its seventh season, are full of surprises, says Staib, who has traveled around the world to connect exotic ingredients back to 18th-century America and the diet of the country's founding fathers.

“We never know exactly what it ends up to be,” he says. “We do not work off of a script.”

On Saturday morning at the museum, Staib and the television crew will film costumed colonial re-enactors cooking simple food that people ate during the French and Indian War, like a pea pudding that includes boiled-down split peas, along with salted pork and beef.

“It gives a chance for people to see what their ancestors might have been eating here 250 years ago,” says Justin Meinert, living-history program coordinator for the Fort Pitt Museum. “Sometimes, it's strange to us, but other times, it's just the same type of food that we eat today.”

Meinert says he hopes Staib's visit will promote the museum and its living-history programs that re-create life in the 18th century.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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