A sad day for the world of cooking
A sad day for the world of cooking
When I started out cooking I bought all his books, he was a huge source of inspiration for me. He will be missed
In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food. Jiro Ono
Charlie Trotter, whose eponymous Chicago restaurant was considered one of the finest in the world, has died.
The 54-year-old chef was found unconscious and not breathing in his Lincoln Park home this morning and was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Trotter was found by his son Dylan at the home in the 1800 block of North Dayton Street and an ambulance was called at 10:45 a.m., according to a family friend and fire officials.
"My baby's gone," Trotter's wife Rochelle told the friend, Carrie Nahabedian.
Steve Kolinski, a neighbor who lives several houses down, said he came outside late this morning and saw six police cars and an ambulance pulled up at Trotter’s home. Kolinski then saw Trotter’s wife, who ran outside and was “yelling hysterically.’’
Trotter was wheeled out on a stretcher and taken away, he said. Trotter’s wife and son then left.
Trotter was pronounced dead at 11:48 a.m. at Northwestern. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday, but a source said there was no preliminary indications of foul play.
Charlie Trotter 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.
He was named the country’s Outstanding Chef by James Beard Foundation in 1999; in 2000, Wine Spectator magazine called Trotter’s the best restaurant in the nation. More awards and accolades followed, including a 2002 Beard Award for Outstanding Service; at the time, Trotter called it the award he was most proud to receive, as it represented “a team award.”
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.
“Charlie was an extreme father figure to me when it came to not just cooking, but life, and seeing things in a different way,” said chef Graham Elliot Bowles, one of many famous chefs who worked for Trotter. “I just can’t put into words how saddened I am by all of this. It’s a huge loss, not just personally, but for the culinary world.”
The news shocked many in the restaurant world, including L.A. chef David LeFevre, owner at MB Post and Fishing With Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, who worked for Trotter for 10 years, dating back to his externship from the Culinary Institute of America.
"He’s probably the most important guy in my career," LeFevre told the Los Angeles Times while waiting to board a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles after a brief vacation. “It’s funny because I’ve been talking a lot about Charlie this weekend because I was back in Chicago and seeing friends from that period.
"I think I can attribute the majority of my attention to detail and the majority of my awareness of what it takes to run a fine dining restaurant to him. He had a very acute sense of attention to detail and he saw things that most people didn’t see. All of us who worked for him are better chefs because we came out of that kitchen.
"He may not have been the best people person sometimes when he was trying to achieve a very difficult goal, but there’s no arguing that he made us all better chefs.
"I’ve spoken with 10 or 12 people this morning who worked with him and every one is very sad about this. Those of us who got to spend a lot of time with him knew a very caring side of him that not everyone could see."
Sari Zernich Worsham, who worked closely with Trotter for 13 years in his kitchen and on his books and PBS series, said she and other Trotter alumni are organizing a candlelight vigil in front of the restaurant buildings at 4:30 p.m. for anyone who would like to come.
“I just feel like we should do something immediately,” said Worsham, now executive director of chef Art Smith's company.
"Charlie always called me his little sister, and I feel like I just lost my big brother," she said. "I’m just speechless. He’s welded and sculpted so many people’s lives and sent them on the path to success. I can’t thank him enough."
“I don’t think you can write a sadder story," said Yusho chef Matthias Merges, a 14-year veteran of Trotter's kitchen as chef de cuisine, executive chef and director of operations. "I don’t think it’s even possible."
Merges emphasized that Trotter should be remembered for his incredible influence and success. "What he’s accomplished has been the game changer for the landscape of American cuisine, and we can never discount that no matter what happens,” Merges said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement saying Trotter "changed Chicago’s restaurant scene forever and played a leading role in elevating the city to the culinary capital it is today. . . He will always have a seat at the table among Chicago’s legendary figures.”
A neighbor, Bunny Snyder, who lives across the street, remembered Trotter fondly, saying he was known as “Chef’’ to those in the close-knit neighborhood.
“He was terrific on the street,’’ Snyder said, adding that he would usually attend their summer block party and she would often see him walking a dog.
“He used to partake in our street fair every year and put out a table,’’ Snyder said. “He was a good neighbor."
Lauren Marks, who has lived on the street for some 30 years, said that she used to see Trotter fairly regularly when he would walk his dogs, but said he had been "rather reclusive lately."
"It's a sad thing, it's shocking," said Marks, who said she saw the emergency vehicles gathered outside this morning and knew something was wrong. "With Charlie you never knew what was going to happen on any given day... He was an interesting man."
Tom Aries, another neighbor whose child went to school with Trotter's son, called the news "astonishing."
"He was a phenomenal chef," said Aries, who said that he got to be chef for a day in Trotter's restaurant, and that he ran a very efficient operation.
Another woman who walked by Trotter's home said that she used to work for Trotter at his restaurant — where she had also met her husband.
"Charlie was a very sweet man to me all my years working there and treated me like a daughter," said the woman, wiping tears from her eyes. She declined to give her name because of the controversy that has surrounded Trotter's interactions with previous employees.
Trotter, who grew up in Chicago’s north suburbs, was a political science major at the University of Wisconsin at Madison before switching tracks and beginning his culinary training at Sinclair’s in Lake Forest.
Days before he turned 28, Trotter opened his own restaurant in a two-story North Side townhouse he spent about a year restoring.
"I worked in various kitchens from two days to five months," Trotter told the Tribune in 1987, just after the restaurant opened. "I would leave when I wasn't learning anything. I gradually began to conceive of the sort of place I would like to have and the style of cooking I felt comfortable with."
As a young chef learning his trade and bouncing from kitchen to kitchen, he earned the respect of his mentors.
"He's a marathon man," said Norman Van Aken, who in 1987 was a chef on Key West. "He's been with me in three different restaurants and in every one his spirit and persistence has lifted morale. I've never seen such drive, single-minded vision and generosity."
Trotter’s restaurant, greeted by positive reviews, continued growing in stature. In 1997, just a decade after opening, a Tribune critic called the restaurant “one of the city’s treasures” and said Trotter was “as experimental as they come” in the kitchen.
As his eatery flourished, Trotter became a regular at civic functions and charity dinners. At one point, his restaurant was purchasing produce from a garden tended by youth in the troubled Cabrini-Green housing projects.
But 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.
Trotter remained in the news after that final meal, but often not for the best reasons. The chef abruptly ended an auction of his restaurant’s wares when only about a third of the items had been sold.
Then this summer, he was sued for allegedly selling two wine collectors a bogus bottle for thousands of dollars, which he denied.
In August, almost a year to the day after the restaurant closed, Trotter kicked out high school students who had been invited to showcase their artwork from an after-school program in the former restaurant. One student said Trotter "went ballistic" when their instructor declined the chef’s request that they sweep floors and clean toilets.
Never had the chance to eat at his place, but his collection of books are still amazing
That is a shame. 54 is too young. Great chef.
All normal people love meat. If I went to a barbeque and there was no meat, I would say 'Yo Goober! Where's the meat?'.- Homer Simpson
If I could work for any chef any the country, it would probably be Matthias Merges (who was exec. chef there for 15 odd years). That's a bad mothef*cker. Say what you will about the man himself, but Charlie Trotter was a game changer and had a HUGE impact on generations of cooks.
Found out about this at work today and it shook the whole kitchen up. Way too young to be passing away.
I was lucky to eat there in 2000, and it was a fantastic meal! I understand that he had an inoperable brain aneurysm, and that may have been the cause of his unfortunate demise.
Very sad day. Rip and Thank you for the inspiration.