Once a maverick in the global food scene, Charlie Trotter cut a swath far and wide and paved the way for upscale dining to be taken seriously in Chicago, a one-time meat-and-potatoes town. But a new profile out today in the New York Times that chronicles the rise and plateau of Trotter, shows the adversity the famous chef has faced in the last two decades trying to build his brand.
Trotter's eponymous Lincoln Park restaurant had, for years, been the benchmark in fine dining in Chicago. But as the Michelin guide (which awarded him only two and not three stars) pointed out last year, Trotter's influence has been usurped by younger chefs, including Grant Achatz, who worked for Trotter for less than a year and dedicated a chapter to him in his recently released biography, Life, on the Line.
Then there were the attempted projects in New York, the restaurants in Cabo and Las Vegas, all of which have closed, and Trotter's restaurant in the Elysian Hotel, which never materialized. But Trotter's, the chef claims, is still going strong. "I still think what we do is as cutting-edge as it’s ever been," Trotter said." If you want to compare it to molecular gastronomy, that, to me, is apples and oranges. But if you served our food in a very different context, people would say: ‘This is wild! This is unbelievable!’”
Despite not having a restaurant empire, Trotter has succeeded in other ways. He has a partnership with United Airlines, overseeing the first- and business-class meals on outbound international flights. And he has written many cookbooks. But at the end of the day, one thing Trotter is known for is his focused, driven attitude.
“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.”
· Charlie Trotter, a Leader Left Behind [NYT]
· All Charlie Trotter Coverage on Eater Chicago
Charlie Trotter [Photo: Sally Ryan/NYT]