R.I.P. Charlie Trotter - chicagotribune.com
Rohit Khare stashed this in Food
Charlie Trotter, whose eponymous Chicago restaurant was considered one of the finest in the world, has died.
Trotter burst on the scene in 1987, when the self-taught chef opened Charlie Trotter’s restaurant on Armitage Avenue. In short order, the chef’s intense creativity and never-repeat-a-dish dictum made Trotter’s the most talked-about restaurant in Chicago, and his fame quickly spread throughout the country and beyond.
The mercurial chef was a stern taskmaster who demanded the absolute best from everyone who worked for him. He was also a man of uncommon generosity, creating the Charlie Trotter Education Foundation to provide scholarships for culinary students. He received the James Beard Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year award in 2012.
I did not realize the restaurant had closed.
As diners rung in the New Year in 2012, Trotter announced that he’d be shuttering his restaurant months later. The restaurant closed late that summer, just after its 25th anniversary.
"He was an amazing mentor and chef and all of us in the kitchen learned so much from Charlie. He pushed us to be the best that we can be. So many amazing chefs have come out of the kitchen of Charlie Trotter’s. A lot of us are quite close still and the friendships we made at the restaurant have lasted a very long time and have continued to grow.
"Honestly, all of us are in shock. I started receiving text messages and phone calls this morning. I think all of us will remember him as being a great chef and humanitarian. He did so much for the world of cuisine and for the schools in Chicago, reaching out to kids and with his Excellence Program teaching them about not only fine dining, but life lessons in the kitchen.
"I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to work with him."
His legacy will be "a passion for perfection and innovation," said Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine.
Charlie Trotter's Restaurant Charlie was well-received when it opened in Vegas in 2008, but it didn't hang around for very long:
Who knew he had a Vegas restaurant?!
Whoa, I didn't realize that either. Such a loss; perfection does not require being an ass (can you guess I'm following up reading the new Bezos book by Brad Stone? :)
In 2012 — and in keeping with his reputation for bold, unexpected moves — Trotter closed his iconic 120-seat restaurant. His plan? Return to college to study philosophy.
"The one thing it will do for me is let me wipe a certain slate clean. And while I'm studying and reading and applying myself to something else, if I decide to come back to the restaurant world, I think I'm going to bring a different perspective," he told The Associated Press in an interview last year.
"My hope is to really learn how to think very differently on the whole thing," he said.
Van Aken said it was a shame the public rarely saw other sides of Trotter's personality — the wit that drove him to share video clips of W.C. Fields, his reenactments of scenes from "The Godfather," his love of Miles Davis.
In a behind-the-scenes look for the AP three days before closing night, the Charlie Trotter's staff held a typically detail-laden pre-dinner meeting, discussing specifics down to the exact dates when diners last ate at the restaurant and reminders about when to use certain wine glasses.
Dishes from the final week of menus included poached white asparagus with charred broccolini, manchego cheese and red pepper essence and root beer leaf ice cream with vanilla cremeaux and birch syrup-infused meringue.
Some might have thought the move from the restaurant world was too risky. Not Trotter.
"What's the worst that could happen? Life's too short. You may be on this planet for 80 years at best or who knows, but you can't just pedal around and do the same thing forever," he told the AP in 2012.
Back in 2012 there were some sour grapes: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/11/dining/charlie-trotter-a-chef-whose-touch-will-last.html
There is no doubt that Mr. Trotter, 52, has had a huge and lasting impact on the city’s culinary landscape, if not the nation’s. First, by pioneering the meticulous, indulgent and seemingly endless degustation menus that are now a staple of high-end dining, then bytraining legions of innovative cooks — Grant Achatz, Graham Elliot Bowles, Giuseppe Tentori, Michael Carlson — who spawned the restaurants where everyone I knew did eat.
But about 60 percent of Trotter’s patrons live outside Chicago. Ray Harris, who has consumed more than 400 meals there (“And never had the same dish twice,” Mr. Trotter loves to point out), is an investment banker in New York.
The food is still sublime, the service impeccable, the overall experience astounding (if astronomically priced). And yet, as a 40-something friend who has lived almost his whole life in or around Chicago but has never been to Trotter’s, put it, “It seems like he’s been yesterday for so many years.”
In an interview, Mr. Trotter acknowledged that business has been down 15 to 20 percent in the last few years, after what he described as “20 consecutive years of growth,” but insisted his decision was about none of these things.
“On our worst day, we’re still in the top three restaurants in America,” he said (then added, “I don’t want to sound arrogant when I say that”).
“I love what I do. It’s very glamorous. It’s unbelievably lucrative. But that’s not good enough.
“I don’t ever want to lose that mind-set where you’ve got to be able to realize different ideas-slash-fantasies-slash-possibilities in your life.”
Ah, wine. Mr. Trotter has 26,000 bottles at the restaurant (plus another 1,500 in the cellar at home, where a couple of cans of Pepsi and a partly drunk bottle of blue Gatorade share the shelves). What will become of the collection when the restaurant closes, I wondered?
“I did a mathematical calculation,” he said. “If I live to the average life expectancy of the American male — 78.9 — and I consume one bottle of wine every day, I should consume the last bottle on my last day on this planet.”
Is that how he timed the decision to cut bait? “That factored into it,” he said.
Mr. Trotter grants that control is exceedingly important to him, and that there is an inherent contradiction between the nature of his business — hospitality — and the radical extent to which he takes his quest for excellence.
“You know the old adage that the customer’s always right?” he said. “Well, I kind of think that the opposite is true. The customer is rarely right. And that is why you must seize the control of the circumstance and dominate every last detail: to guarantee that they’re going to have a far better time than they ever would have had if they tried to control it themselves.”
With this outlook, Mr. Trotter must know that he will never be the lovable populist that his friend Emeril Lagasse is. What he does mind is the persistent image of him as a tyrant. “Sometimes I think I should have chosen a line of work where it was just me alone in the room, with the sun coming in, and God, insofar as he or she exists, smiling down upon me,” he said, with a sigh. “Then I would have never been accused of being a tyrant, other than towards myself.”
Since Charlie Trotter expected to live 78.9 years, it's safe to believe his death was a surprise to him.
CHICAGO (AP) — The wife of Charlie Trotter said doctors discovered the acclaimed chef had an aneurysm months before he died and that he'd been taking medicine to control seizures, his blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Trotter was declared dead Tuesday at a Chicago hospital after paramedics found him unresponsive in his home. An autopsy conducted Wednesday ruled out foul play or trauma, but the Cook County Medical Examiner's office said an exact cause of death could not be determined until toxicology tests and other tests are completed. It could take up to eight weeks.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Rochelle Trotter said the aneurysm was discovered in January and that doctors had prescribed the "proper medication."
According to a police report obtained by the AP, Trotter's family said shortly after his death that the chef had flown to Wyoming "against doctor's advice."
Rochelle Trotter disputed those suggestions, saying "medical experts" cleared him to travel and that he'd returned Monday night from his most recent trip. She also said "the autopsy indicates the travel is not connected with his death."
Trotter closed his world-renowned restaurant in 2012, saying he planned to study philosophy. But a friend of his, Larry Stone, has said that Trotter's health may have played a role in his decision to close the eatery after a quarter-century.
Hard driving Type A personalities are more likely to have aneurysms and strokes.
Almost certainly his health played a role in his decision to close the restaurant.