Charlie Trotter: A culinary legend passes on…

By on November 6, 2013

Charlie Trotter
(September 8, 1959 – November 5, 2013)

Today the culinary world suffered a huge loss, Charlie Trotter passed away at the very young age of 54. For those of you not familiar with Trotter and his influence in the culinary world, let me tell you his recognition and reputation was by far…one of merit.

What is remarkable about this culinary legend is the fact that he never attended any culinary institute – he was self-taught. Trotter attended University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI) where he earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Political Science but would prepare meals as a way of entertainment for his friends and roommates as his passion was waiting to be unfolded.

I wasn’t aware that I had the same mentality as Trotter (till I read it in a recent article) that he believed that the only way to know what the ‘best’ is, is to expose yourself to the ‘best’.

After graduating from college Trotter traveled around the U.S. and Europe to dine at only the finest restaurants. He wanted to learn how the “best” gained that title, and see what the future could possibly hold for him. He returned to the States and began doing catering parties (tasting menu format) for friends of his family. This was his way to “test the waters” on his culinary skills and his focus on the caliber of service and wine emphasis he desired. After doing this successfully for just over a year, he decided to open Charlie Trotter’s –with his now deceased father, Bob Trotter, as his partner.

The restaurant Charlie Trotter and the man himself became a legend of sorts:

  • Charlie Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago opened in 1987. On December 31, 2011, Trotter announced that the restaurant would close in August 2012, citing a desire to travel and to pursue a master’s degree. It was named as the 30th-best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine, and 5th-best in the United States in 2007.In 2010 Charlie Trotter’s was one of three restaurants in Chicago to be awarded two stars by the Michelin Guide.
Among other restaurants and awards that Trotter earned over the years (The James Beard Foundation to the Michelin Guide to the Colin Powell-founded charity, America’s Promise Alliance), Trotter also managed to write 14 cookbooks and three management books, and had promoted a line of organic and all-natural gourmet foods distributed nationally.
Trotter’s philosophy was simple: his cuisine originated from the finest foodstuffs available. He believed in having a variety of  purveyors (over 90 for his restaurant) to provide the fresh, healthful ingredients which inspired him to create flavorful masterpieces. 

The taste of free-range and organic products is so much better than the alternative. It is also good to know that you are eating unadulterated food and supporting farmers and growers who are directly connected with the land.

Chef Trotter preferred saucing with vegetable juice-based vinaigrettes, light emulsified stocks, and purees as well as delicate broths, and herb-infused meat and fish essences.

Unlike sauces which incorporate a lot of butter or cream, our approach does not mute or block the basic flavors of the ingredients they are meant to support.

I do not want guests walking out of the restaurant feeling as if they over-indulged because of excessive cream, butter, and alcohol. I want them to feel stimulated and alert, knowing that they will be able to look forward to breakfast the following morning. Food doesn’t have to be rich to taste good.

As the news spread throughout the day of Trotter’s passing, chefs, protégées and fans who were influenced by his work and his philosophy of cooking shared their grief.

Graham Elliott, a one-time Trotter protégée‎ expressed that Trotter was “chef, mentor, trailblazer, philosopher, artist, teacher, leader. He now belongs to the ages”.

Anthony Bourdain wrote: “Rest In Peace Charlie Trotter. A giant. A legend. Treated shabbily by a world he helped create. My thoughts go out to those who loved him.”

Daniel Boulud wrote: “Very sad day in the chef community #charlietrotter influence on young American chef was tremendous and inspiring .he will be missed greatly.”

The tributes for Charlie Trotter have been flooding the internet and twitter alike all day. Stories, memories and lessons learned are being shared to the public about this culinary legend. I unfortunately did not have the pleasure of eating at his famed restaurant but I can only imagine what kind of an experience that would have been. Trotter was young to be taken away from the world but obviously left a remarkable impression let alone stamp on the ever changing culinary scene.

I found this quote from chef José Andrés that I found to be rather fitting: “lets celebrate his amazing contribution to America and the world. He was a genuine person.Today heaven will eat better….”


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