As many of you have already read Charlie Trotter died two days again at the young age of 54, sadly found by his son, but that isn’t really the focus I am intending. I talked to my sous chef about it. Keith comes from the Chicago market and actually was the one who told me. I talked to two cooks who work for me at Figue, one 37 and one 19, neither had heard of Charlie Trotter. That shocked me. Google Charlie Trotter and you will see very opinionated commentary on him. People either loved him or hated him. I found it fascinating that people who chose this career hadn’t heard of someone who was out there in the forefront, love him or hate him.
I first met Charlie a week before he opened his restaurant on Armitage. We both had the same Edward Don rep, Wally. Wally was so excited about Charlie and his project that he wanted to show it off to me. I was contemplating opening a restaurant at the same time. Charlie’s restaurant was well laid out and no expense was spared. Charlie’s career skyrocketed where mine just kind of went an average trajectory. Back then I was bitter about that. Today I have grown a lot and have no room in my heart for negative feelings or even hatred.
Charlie always struck me as a bit arrogant and over the years I grew to dislike him as a Chef. I could never comment about him as a person but as a Chef I had heard many interesting stories about his background and claims he made. I felt I owed it to him and to myself to eat at his restaurant and give it a fair try. I ate with my mother and was unimpressed. Too many ingredients on each plate. I am more awed by minimalism. We had had the grand tasting menu and two of the courses on the daily printed menu were substituted. The waitstaff did not even think it necessary to tell us as they brought dishes different than what our printed menu stated. The first course was very good and subsequent courses became less and less interesting culminating in the desserts scattered across the table that were mediocre at best. Only when I ordered a $400 bottle of a single vineyard Guigal did our table receive any attention. Trotters was a bit pretentious. Maybe it was an off night. God knows I have had many of those.
I feel old because I am now sounding like my father in criticizing the youth of today. It blows my mind that people do not know who he was. I wanted to be a Chef so badly I used to go skiing with the Repertoire de la Cuisine firmly tucked in my pocket memorizing sauces and garnishes as I rode the lifts. The binding came apart and I duct taped it back together. Every spare second I studied food and Chefs, even ones I wasn’t in love with. All of us who cook share a bond. We all chose a career that is physically demanding and unyielding in it’s toughness. We all have gone through the grind of trying to make it. The weekends and holidays sacrificed for the art of the kitchen. The divorce rates, suicide rates, alcohol and drug rates are astounding. I have gone through a divorce and had my fair share of drug/alcohol related issues over time. I definitely gave my pint of blood for this career and feel very much like a survivor.
I just read an interesting article about Charlie (read article here). My favorite line is “I said, ‘From one Chicagoan to another, what would be your last meal?’ And he answered, ‘A 1900 Chateau Margaux,’ ” I think I may have said the exact same thing.
I bid safe travels to Charlie and heartfelt condolences to his family, especially his wife and son. I can only imagine the great pain they feel. I raise a great glass of wine in your honor… thanks for helping Chicago become a better known food town and thanks for doing your part in carrying le feu sacre…
The Story of Life
is quicker than the Wink of an Eye
The Story of LOve is hello and goodbye…
…until we meet again!